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‘There’s A Great Feeling Around The Group’ – Hansen

‘There’s A Great Feeling Around The Group’ – Hansen

Mack Hansen returns to action with Ireland for the first time since their Triple Crown-clinching triumph over Scotland in March ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

His first season with Connacht saw him getting used to the unpredictable weather at the Sportsground, but the rain currently failing here in Dunedin will have no impact on the result of tomorrow’s second Test.

Mack Hansen is anticipating a cracking contest when Ireland and New Zealand lock horns again, with international encounters played under Forsyth Barr Stadium’s roof invariably producing lots of scores and exciting play.

Hansen has fully recovered from a bout of Covid-19 that spoiled the early stages of his first tour with Ireland. He comes in as the only change to the side that lost 42-19 in Auckland last Saturday.

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The 24-year-old played Super Rugby with the Brumbies in his native Australia, but this will be his first time to face southern hemisphere opposition in the green jersey.

Relishing the dry ball and fast pitch conditions guaranteed by the indoor arena, Hansen said: “It’s definitely a help for both teams, just for good running rugby. We both play pretty similar styles I’d say, like to keep the ball in field.

“Whenever you can play on a dry pitch it’s just better for everyone. It’s a better spectacle. We know what they’re going to bring.

“The All Blacks, as I said, like to keep the ball in play and try to run you around the pitch. There were a lot of learnings out of last week. We’re ready to go, it’ll be good.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell praised Hansen during this year’s Guinness Six Nations as ‘a natural footballer’ and ‘a player who makes things happen’. The evidence for the latter being that sensational try in Paris.

Playing New Zealand at a stadium where they have never lost adds another level of difficulty, but Connacht’s Player of the Year is quietly confident that Farrell’s side can turn the tables on their hosts.

“I’m feeling really good. Not going to lie, I really struggled at first (coming back from time out with Covid). My first couple of runs I was struggling out there big time.

“But I came around pretty quick, so I feel 100% and back to normal,” he admitted, his durability evident during the Six Nations when he played the full 80 minutes in each of his four appearances.

Hansen added: “Everyone’s written us off straight away (after losing the first Test). We had a very good Six Nations and autumn Tests leading up to that. People can say what they want to say.

“We know what we need to do to get a win. There’s a great feeling around the group at the moment, so if everybody wants to write us off that’s great.”

So how do they go about squaring up the series and taking it to a decider? Hansen agreed there were ‘plenty of work-ons’ from last week, cutting down the errors and converting their try-scoring chances very much at the top of the agenda.

“At the end of the day, it’s just what you can control. All the errors, they feed off that. We can bring those down, it’s going to make for a lot closer game.

“Our attack I thought was pretty good last week. Getting held up six times, it’s just that last bit that we have to work on. I think we showed that the attack is there, it’s just getting that ball down over the line.”

Ireland can look to previous tours and how their predecessors produced big performances in second Tests against the All Blacks. The middle match in 2012 went down to the wire with the home side needing a late Dan Carter drop goal to take a 22-19 win in Christchurch.

At a rain-lashed Eden Park in 2006, a Brian O’Driscoll-inspired Ireland fought back to make it a three-point game with half an hour remaining, before Luke McAlister touched down to give New Zealand a 27-17 victory.

The difference now is that this current Irish squad know what it takes to beat New Zealand. A number of them have done it before in Chicago and Dublin, so can they fire back at Ian Foster’s men tomorrow and create more history?

Hansen is convinced they can do so, insisting: “We’re not here just to take part. We want to get a win over here, be the first (Irish) team to do it.

“That’s always a nice thing to have on our shoulder. We’ve got nothing to lose and New Zealand rarely lose over here, so there’s more pressure on them.”