"They can keep thinking that" - Mack Hansen has a Stormers score to settle
"I’d say they're probably feeling pretty comfortable."
Although a lot of water has passed under the bridge since last September, and he has won a Grand Slam since, Mack Hansen keenly recalls the last time Connacht took on Stormers in South Africa.
Playing at Danie Craven Stadium, on the first leg of an early season South African swing, Connacht were 16-8 behind - after 59 minutes - when Tom Farrell looked to have put his side right back in the contest with a try. The Westerners were then hit with a double blow.
A TMO check revealed Bundee Aki had been reckless in a clear-out on Seabelo Senatla, resulting in the try being chalked off and Connacht being reduced to 14 men. To make matters worse, the Connacht centre stayed on the pitch to argue his case, and went back for another chirp after the game, leading to a lengthy ban.
Mack Hansen had his own video nasty in that game as Stormers No.8 Evan Roos took him for a speed-bump on his way to an early try. Hansen was not the first player to be on the receiving end against Roos - the 2021/22 URC Player of the Season - and he will not be the last. Still, it was noticeable to see how his defence improved markedly as the season went on, for Connacht and Ireland.
Stormers went on to win 38-15 and Connacht lost to the Bulls on the following weekend, starting 0-3 in the United Rugby Championship. Back in late September, and again in mid October [when Leinster beat them 10-0 in Galway], you would have got long odds on Connacht reaching the URC semi-finals.
And yet, here we are. Connacht are in the final four and they fully deserve to be.
Hansen, though, is hoping Stormers may be looking past them already. Saturday's semi-final has plenty of scar tissue and bite, and we are only into the second year of this rivalry.
Mack Hansen on facing Stormers
While Mack Hansen feels the Connacht defence was top-class in their quarter final win over Ulster, he concedes their attack was 'bang average'.
Indeed, Connacht did spurn three gilt-edged chances to score tries, meaning Ulster were in the game right until the final play even though the second seeds themselves looked well off the boil.
Connacht have won 11 of their last 16 games in the URC to reach the semis and Hansen was asked if there was anything specific said, or done, out West after they won just one of their first five games of the season.
"We tried some new things in attack at the start [of the season] and we had a bloody hard start, as well. Everyone pretty much wrote us off after those first three games [Ulster, Stormers and Bulls] who were three of the four semi-finalists from the season before. As the season went on, though, we knew it was going to get better.
"It was looking a bit rocky, early on, but things often build slowly and we're hitting our stride at the right time."
"They're a good team," Hansen says of a Stormers side that took the big prize in the first ever URC season. "No two ways about it, especially over there. Losing one game at home is quality, but it's semi-final time and, you know, anything could happen.
"We showed that last week - we're going over there to do a job. Obviously we're not going to just lay down and take it from them.
"So, yeah, I say they're probably feeling pretty comfortable thinking they'll go well, which is perfect. They can keep thinking of that."
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