‘Incredible character, top man’ – Peter O’Mahony hails Ireland wing Mack Hansen

By Sports Desk September 14, 2023

Peter O’Mahony says Ireland squad would be lost without “characters” like Mack Hansen in their camp at the Rugby World Cup.

Wing Hansen will make his full tournament debut against Tonga on Saturday evening following a 20-minute cameo in last weekend’s 82-8 win over Romania.

Flanker O’Mahony believes the 25-year-old is among the best in the world in his position, as well an asset to the group off the field due to his fun-loving nature.

“He’s been a breath of fresh air,” said O’Mahony. “An incredible character, good person. Straight away we knew he was a top man.

“A character but above it all he’s an incredible athlete and one of the world’s best wingers at the moment.

“The overriding factor is that he’s a good person and he’s seamlessly fitted into our squad. He’s been great craic and you need characters like that.

“The beauty of the game of rugby is the different characters you get and we’d be lost without guys like this.

“Tours like this are made for being incredibly serious but the craic that fellas like this bring make it a great place to be.”

Hansen was initially a surprise omission from Andy Farrell’s match day 23 for Ireland’s Pool B opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

But he was a late addition to the bench in place of the injured Robbie Henshaw before coming on for Keith Earls.

Head coach Farrell dismissed any suggestion that Hansen had originally been left out for disciplinary reasons.

Asked by a reporter why the Connacht player was overlooked in the first instance, Farrell interjected: “Was it you who kept on asking the question last week? Where the hell did all that come from?

“Left out of the 23? No. We wanted to give someone else a game, as simple as that.

“Mack’s up next (for media), so you can ask him the question as well, ‘was he a naughty boy?’. He definitely wasn’t.”

However, when an attempt was made to ask Hansen about his coach’s comments, O’Mahony, who was sitting alongside him, stepped in, saying: “Did Andy not just answer a question about this a second ago?”

Hansen then joked: “We had a five-minute tiff whatever and we’re fine now, so it’s all good!”

The native Australian, who made his Ireland debut in last year’s Six Nations after qualifying through his Cork-born mother, is already relishing his first World Cup experience.

“It’s an absolute privilege, I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to do so,” he said, ahead of the weekend match in Nantes.

“First start, against a good Tongan team, it’s really exciting. I was lucky enough to come off the bench last week so (that) kind of settled the nerves a bit and I can really enjoy this week.

“A lot of my mates are over at the moment, so it’s tough getting Snapchats of them smoking vapes and drinking beers at 12 in the morning while I’m trying to prepare for a game.

“But it’s good craic and it’s actually been nice getting that aspect outside of playing and seeing how much a World Cup means to people.”

Hansen attracted attention following the Romania game by stripping to his underwear after swapping shirts with an opponent and giving his shorts to a fan, much to the amusement of the onlooking Farrell.

“I’m not the first person to take their shorts off after a game, I doubt I’ll be the last,” Hansen said. “I’ve been told to keep them on this week I’ll try my hardest.”

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    The Real Madrid-bound forward scored a hat-trick in the final of FIFA's global tournament in 2022, though that was not enough to stop Argentina from winning on penalties in Saudi Arabia.

    Another major tournament is on the horizon as the European Championship awaits in Germany, where Didier Deschamps' side rank as the favourites alongside Gareth Southgate's England.

    Euros success is the only glory missing from Mbappe's glittering resume, having won the World Cup in 2018 and the Nations League as well, though the 25-year-old hopes to end that this time around.

    The former Paris Saint-Germain told CNN Sport: "I want to win the Euros. I have to be honest. I won the World Cup. I won the Nations League.

    "That's the only one that missed me with the national team after I did everything with the national team. I really want to win this.

    "My first competition as captain, so it's really important for me and it's always important for the country and we want them to be proud of us.

    "[It's] another opportunity to write the history of my country."

    Mbappe endured a woeful tournament at Euro 2020, failing to score from chances amounting to 1.7 xG in four games, before missing the vital penalty as France lost to Switzerland in a last-16 shoot-out.

    Coming into this tournament on the back of a 44-goal season with PSG and with his long-term future decided, few would back a repeat from Madrid's newest Galactico. 

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  • Euro 2024: Can England bring football home, or will France reign supreme? Euro 2024: Can England bring football home, or will France reign supreme?

    Euro 2024 is almost upon us, with Europe's finest preparing to battle it out to be crowned continental champions in Germany.

    It all gets under way on Friday as Julian Nagelsmann's hosts face Scotland at the Allianz Arena. 

    It seems remarkable to think Die Nationalelf – the most successful national team in Europe – have gone eight years without a knockout win at a major tournament, and they will be desperately hoping home advantage inspires a better run this time around.

    England, meanwhile, will be looking to bring football home and end 58 years of hurt in the country their captain Harry Kane thrived in last season.

    The Three Lions' 2022 World Cup hopes were ended by France, who are again among the favourites. There is plenty more intrigue elsewhere, from defending champions Italy being drawn in a 'group of death' with Spain and Croatia to Cristiano Ronaldo leading Portugal into a sixth edition of the Euros.

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    THE HOSTS

    This will be the first edition of the Euros to take place solely in a unified Germany, though the Allianz Arena hosted games at Euro 2020 and West Germany staged the 1988 tournament – won by the Netherlands as Marco van Basten scored one of the most iconic goals in history against the USSR in the final.

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    Hopes were not high for them in late 2023 as a dismal run of friendly results saw Hansi Flick become the first Germany coach to be sacked. However, Nagelsmann has restored optimism and has a supremely talented group of players to work with.

    Florian Wirtz's emergence as one of Europe's best attacking midfielders offers cause for excitement – the 21-year-old scored 11 goals and added 11 assists during Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten Bundesliga title-winning campaign to claim Player of the Season honours.

    Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan will likely support Kai Havertz in a fluid attacking quartet, while Toni Kroos' presence in midfield will be a major boost to a team that averaged 59.3 per cent possession at Euro 2020 – second only to Spain (66.8 per cent).

    Kroos – who won his sixth Champions League with Real Madrid this month – played more line-breaking passes (214) and passes leading to final-third entries (69) than any other player in Europe's premier club competition in 2023-24.

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    They have conceded at least one goal in their last 12 major tournament games, last keeping a clean sheet against Slovakia in the last 16 at Euro 2016. Will that soft underbelly cost them again?

    THE FAVOURITES

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    It is not difficult to see why. In Kane, England have a striker whose tally of 44 goals in 2023-24 was only matched by Kylian Mbappe among players from Europe's top five leagues.

    In Jude Bellingham, they have the outstanding player from Madrid's double-winning side, recording 36 goal involvements (23 goals, 13 assists) in his debut season in Spain. 

    And in Phil Foden, Southgate can call upon the Premier League's Player of the Season, who produced talismanic performances against Manchester United, Aston Villa and West Ham to cap Manchester City's fourth straight title success. 

    With Southgate thought likely to depart whatever the outcome of England's campaign, this tournament must be the culmination of their development into genuine contenders. Penalty shoot-outs excluded, England have only lost one of their last 18 Euros games (10 wins, seven draws) – against Iceland in 2016. 

    With Marc Guehi now likely to partner John Stones following injury-disrupted campaigns for both players, the key may be Southgate's ability to protect his backline. 

    Across the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2020, England conceded just 0.59 goals per game and allowed opponents a paltry 0.72 expected goals (xG) per match – a figure only bettered by France (0.67) among the leading European teams to make each tournament. Reproducing that kind of solidity will be crucial. 

    France

    Didier Deschamps is eyeing history in Germany, where he could become the first person to win the World Cup and the Euros as both a player and a manager. 

    Having reached the final at three of their last four major tournaments, Les Bleus are right up there among the favourites again.

    The likes of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema may be gone, but France still boast an incredible depth of talent, with Mbappe leading from the front as captain.

    Mbappe endured a terrible tournament at Euro 2020, failing to score from chances amounting to 1.7 xG in four games, before missing the vital penalty as France were beaten by Switzerland in a last-16 shoot-out. 

    Coming into this tournament on the back of a 44-goal season with Paris Saint-Germain and with his long-term future decided, few expect a repeat from Madrid's newest Galactico. 

    Among the more interesting selections from Deschamps is a recall for N'Golo Kante, who was missed at the 2022 World Cup but failed to prevent Al-Ittihad from finishing a lowly fifth in the Saudi Pro League in 2023-24. With Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni also included, opposing midfielders are in for a tough time. 

    A difficult group-stage draw means France will be tested from the very off, though. If they can top a pool containing the Netherlands, Austria and Poland, they could be on course to meet England in a titanic semi-final. 

    Spain

    Spain are the only nation to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, bookending their golden era by triumphing in 2008 and 2012. Since then, La Roja have won just two knockout ties at five major tournaments, with a 2022 World Cup exit to Morocco their nadir.  

    Luis de la Fuente is the man tasked with bringing back the good times, and victory in the 2022-23 edition of the Nations League represented a decent start.

    However, La Roja have been drawn into what is surely the toughest group at the Euros, with Croatia and Italy their first two opponents before they face Albania.

    Spain's attractive, possession-based brand of football won them plenty of plaudits at Euro 2020 and the Qatar World Cup, but it did not win them enough games, with Italy, Japan and Morocco all keeping them at arm's length at those tournaments.

    As well as averaging the most passes per sequence during Euro 2024 qualifying (six), Spain averaged the most sequences of 10+ passes per game (28.5). Adding an end product is now the aim of the game.

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    Ronaldo holds the records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – since 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five) at the Euros. 

    His place was called into question at the Qatar World Cup, but Roberto Martinez has built around him since taking over last year, with the Selecao plundering 36 goals in 10 qualifiers and conceding just two.

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    Lionel Messi's triumph at the last World Cup will only have heightened Ronaldo's desire for more international silverware. With a strong supporting cast behind him, he should not be written off.

    THE UNDERDOGS

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    Steve Clarke's side were promoted to the top tier of the Nations League in 2022-23, while a famous 2-0 win over Spain at Hampden Park – courtesy of a Scott McTominay double – set the tone for their successful qualification campaign.

    Having lost Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson and Lewis Ferguson to injury, Clarke's men face a difficult first test against Germany. However, one win could be enough to qualify under the 24-team format, and they might just fancy their chances of upsetting Hungary or Switzerland. 

    Austria

    Looking to bloody the noses of France and the Netherlands in Group D are Austria, tipped by many to be something of a surprise package under Ralf Rangnick.

    Austria finished just one point behind Belgium in qualifying, Rangnick needing little time to implement his high-pressing style. They allowed opponents just 8.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) in qualifying – the fewest of any team.

    Austria also attacked with the highest direct speed (2.03 metres per second), and if their Group D opponents do not match their intensity, they could spring a surprise.

    Georgia

    One of the stories of the tournament can be found in Group F, with Georgia featuring at a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation – they are the only Euros debutants in Germany.

    They failed to qualify directly - their Nations League performance teeing up a penalty shoot-out victory over Greece in the play-offs. They were the only team to reach the tournament while posting a negative goal difference (-6) in their qualifying group.

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    Georgia also have international pedigree in the dugout, with Willy Sagnol their head coach. The former France right-back only lost one of his 12 games at major tournaments as a player (six wins, five draws).

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    All eyes may be on Kane, Mbappe and Ronaldo, but major tournaments are often defined by breakout stars, those players who earn big-money moves or become household names within a matter of days.

    Slovenia's Benjamin Sesko could be a candidate, having attracted interest from several of Europe's biggest clubs, though he has now signed a new deal with RB Leipzig. Bellingham (19) was the only player aged 21 or younger to better his 14 goals in Europe's big five leagues last term. 

    The Netherlands, who are shorn of Frenkie de Jong, may need to spread the goals around in the absence of a top-class number nine, and Feyenoord's Lutsharel Geertruida – who has played at centre-back, right-back or in midfield – had 13 goal involvements in the Eredivisie last term (eight goals, five assists).

    Defending champions Italy are being overlooked by many as Luciano Spalletti oversees a period of transition. Inter midfielder Davide Frattesi could emerge as a star for the Azzurri, having scored five goals in 15 caps – more than any team-mate since his debut in 2022.

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    The supercomputer's prediction

    According to the Opta supercomputer, football may finally arrive home on July 14. 

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