Mack Hansen in line for Connacht return ahead of upcoming Leinster clash

Ireland international to feature for the first time domestically this season but Bundee Aki remains sidelined with a hamstring injury

Mack Hansen is set to make his reappearance for Connacht in next Saturday’s sold-out URC interpro derby against Leinster at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).

Hansen is a crowd favourite at the Galway ground, which has been expanded to a capacity of 8,129 with additional seating and was sold out early last week. The Irish winger has been troubled by an ankle issue since the World Cup, but along with Paul Boyle and Dave Heffernan, is back in full training this week.

Heffernan sustained a calf strain in Connacht’s win over the Sharks last Saturday week while Boyle suffered a broken wrist in the last training session before the opening game of the season, and so therefore is also in line for his seasonal debut.

However, the hamstring injury which has troubled Bundee Aki since the World Cup keeps him sidelined for this Saturday’s game. Shortlisted for World Player of the Year on the back of his sensational form at the World Cup, the talismanic centre is to be further assessed next week as to his availability for Friday week’s opening Champions Cup tie against Bordeaux-Begles in the Sportsground.


Connacht will also be without scrumhalf Colm Reilly due to the ankle injury he sustained in their defeat by the Bulls last Saturday. Michael McDonald, the 24-year-old signed from Ulster on a season-long loan, is in line for his first involvement with Connacht.

The promising academy scrumhalf Matthew Devine, who was a key part of the Irish Grand Slam-winning team of two seasons ago, is understood to have suffered a groin injury in Connacht’s AIL win away to Skerries.

Winger Andrew Smith, who missed the Bulls game with the shoulder injury he suffered against the Sharks, has again been ruled out this week.

John Muldoon, their lineout and maul coach, commented: “You don’t need me to explain how good he [Mack] is and just that buzz he brings around the place.

“Coming back from South Africa and getting into a derby game is special, and then to have him and his energy around the place will be even better again. He’s a phenomenal player, he’ll add lots to us and it won’t be from lack of enthusiasm in what Mack will bring on the pitch.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing him. I don’t know Mack that well personally. He’s just been back from the World Cup so I’m looking forward to getting to know him better over the next couple of weeks and months. Can’t wait to see him on the pitch.”

Muldoon admitted Connacht were disappointed with the scale of their 53-27 defeat by a Bulls side replenished with World Cup winners at altitude in Loftus Versfeld last Saturday.

“We definitely left a few opportunities out there. Different facets of the game let us down at crucial times and we’ve got to make sure that we remedy that very quickly, because you don’t get away with that against the big teams.

“Certainly the conditions were new for me and the players, in that altitude, and the heat was phenomenal. But you can’t have excuses. We just made too many errors ultimately and I think we can control some of those errors, and if we had cut one or two of those out we’d have given ourselves a better opportunity.”

Having begun the season with three home games, all of which they won, Connacht have just played three away games, their last-ditch defeat in Edinburgh preceding their trek to South Africa for a win over the Sharks and last Saturday’s loss to the Bulls in the highveld of Pretoria.

“Certainly there’s different challenges. Being in two degrees in Edinburgh and then going to 36 degrees and altitude, I’ll tell you it wakes your body up. We’re keeping our bodies under pressure at the moment.”

“But this league is getting better and better every year, but we’re just happy where we are at the moment as a collective and obviously Irish rugby is doing extremely well in it.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times