Assistant coach Mike Catt categorically denied Mack Hansen’s shock omission for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener against Romania is down to an internal disciplinary issue.
Australia-born wing Hansen has been among Ireland’s standout players amid their current 13-match winning run but was the only first-team regular left out of Saturday’s Pool B clash in Bordeaux.
Head coach Andy Farrell confirmed the 25-year-old is not injured when announcing his team on Thursday.
The Englishman then volunteered information about some members of his squad succumbing to off-field distractions when the team were based in Biarritz for their final warm-up game against Samoa in nearby Bayonne.
“The reason we went there is that there’s a lot of distraction that goes on, certainly when you’re in a hotel that’s on the beach,” Farrell said in answering a routine question about newer members of his squad not having World Cup baggage.
“Some people handled that brilliantly, some people didn’t.”
Farrell’s cryptic admission fuelled speculation in the wake of Hansen’s surprise non-selection.
Yet Catt insisted the Connacht player has not breached team rules.
“Good question really, it’s a long tournament first and foremost and it’s making sure that we look after everybody,” Catt replied when asked why Hansen has been left out.
“In the same breath there is good competition in that area too. There is nothing that Mack has done wrong. It’s not that he’s performed badly at all.
“He’s done exceptionally well in his pre-season games and like we say, it’s a long competition and we need to keep people fresh too.”
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Ireland’s strong selection is missing just three of arguably Farrell’s preferred starting XV: injured hooker Dan Sheehan, flanker Josh van der Flier, who is on the bench, and Hansen.
Hansen, who recently had Farrell’s face tattooed on his leg as part of a pact with captain Johnny Sexton, has only sat out three Test matches since his debut in the 2022 Six Nations.
One of those fixtures was the first Test against New Zealand last year when he had Covid-19, while another was last month’s warm-up match with Italy, when most of Ireland’s star names were given the weekend off.
Questioned directly on whether the selection decision was due to a disciplinary matter, Catt replied: “Not at all, no.”
Centre Bundee Aki, who was sitting next to Catt, joked that Hansen’s absence was performance-related, saying: “He was useless.”