‘The pressure is all on Leinster’ - Mack Hansen staying cool ahead of showdown

Leinster travel west to Galway as firm favourites for Champions Cup double header

Mack Hansen has been a breath of fresh air since pitching up his tent in Barna to the west of Galway city, not just on the pitch but off it too. A little like James Lowe, the 22-year-old Hansen has a carefree, laidback manner and, undoubtedly with a glint in his eye, maintains all the pressure is on Leinster when the two side meet in their two-legged Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie.

Connacht welcome the four-time winners to a packed Sportsground for their first ever Champions Cup knock-out tie in Friday evening’s first leg (kick-off 8pm) and, true to type, Hansen believes they can freely swing from the hip.

“We know we’re probably seen as underdogs but we’re not gonna really treat it like that. We’re just going to play another game of rugby. As I said all week, the pressure is all on Leinster. There is no pressure on us at all.

“We just have got to go out and play our game which is fantastic and those blokes, to be honest, they should probably be s****ing themselves a little bit with the expectation they’re just going to roll us. That’s perfect for us and hopefully the occasion can get to them a little. They’re only human.”


That said, Hansen accepted that it will require a monumental effort by Connacht and easily their two best performances of the season to have a chance of advancing over the two legs against this Leinster team.

“They have pretty much just got the whole Ireland team at their disposal every day. They can bring off Furlong and Porter and they bring on a hundred and something tests prop in Cian Healy, which is great for them and it is going to take a lot for us to get there but it’s definitely not impossible.

“I feel like when we’re counted down and out, we’re ready to go out there and shock everyone and show what this club is about, and we’re not easy beats at all. It’s never easy coming to the Sportsground and getting the win here with the pissing down rain and the wind in you sideways. We love it here and we’re very confident that we can put out a performance.”

Hansen has an even better idea of Leinster’s quality after his first Six Nations campaign. He made his debut in the opener against Wales alongside 11 Leinster players, with another three on the bench, and played three more times.

“I actually preferred it when I first came over and I didn’t really know anyone because you can just go in and play footy,” he admitted in advance of what will be a totally new dynamic for him coming up against familiar teammates albeit, of course, “it’s a game of footy at the end of the day”.

“It is strange. I’ve never really done it too much. Maybe in junior comps and stuff, but never to this extent where you’re team-mates and everything for a fair while as well. Pretty much you’re living together, shoulder to shoulder. To come out and be going up against them, I don’t know how it will feel out there, if it will be different to the last couple of times, but I don’t think so too much.

“If anything it has just been good to be so close with them all, learning their strengths and everything. Hopefully, I can help us get a little bit of an edge over them as well.”

Hansen spoke a little emotionally about playing for the country where his mother and her side of the family hailed from after that debut against Wales, but he’s happy to be back ‘home’ in Galway, for first and foremost he owes a debt to Connacht for making that possible.

“It means everything,” Hansen said of playing for his province. “They took a chance on me to bring me over here and pick me the first round as well when I had a couple of injuries leading up and it probably made more sense to go elsewhere. They’ve put a lot of faith in me and a lot of trust and I just want to do everything I can to repay them.

“I wouldn’t be here without Connacht at all so it means everything and I couldn’t be happier to be at this club and be playing with the players I am playing with. I love it here. It’s been great.”

Hansen has in turn been adopted by the home crowd at the Sportsground, where he is often the closest in proximity of course, after that stunning solo try from inside his own half on his home debut against the Bulls. That was the first of six tries in ten appearances, to go along with one in four for Ireland when leaping and gathering Joey Carbery’s restart on the run to score in Paris.

This evening’s game will mark his first game at the Galway venue since the New Year’s Day win over Munster.

“Our supporters are ridiculous, they are unreal. I know we only get 6,000 in the game but it honestly feels like 20,000 when they’re screaming their heads off. Rain, hail or shine they’re there, toughing the conditions just as much as we are. It’s very special. It’s a very special place here and the whole game-day atmosphere is amazing with people just going into pubs, having a few beers, and making the walk over. It just makes the whole experience a lot better, especially come the game-day.”