Mack Hansen urges Ireland to ‘rough up’ Italy’s Ange Capuozzo to stop him

Mack Hansen says Ireland need to “rough up” Ange Capuozzo to help prevent Italy’s “super-quick whippets” derailing their quest for Grand Slam glory.

Andy Farrell’s men go into Saturday’s tricky trip to Rome sitting in pole position for the Guinness Six Nations title on the back of bonus-point wins over Wales and France.

The resurgent Azzurri snapped a 36-match losing streak in the championship by defeating the Welsh in 2022 and backed up that shock result with a historic success over Australia.

Hansen is wary of “genuine superstars” in the opposition ranks and feels Toulouse full-back Capuozzo, who created his country’s winning score in Cardiff before claiming two tries against the Wallabies in the autumn, requires special attention.

“He’s an eyes-up player so I think if we can get our hands on him and rough him up a bit that would help us,” he said of 23-year-old Capuozzo.

“He’s not the world’s biggest player but he’s so quick that we’re probably going to have hunt in threes to take care of him.

“But when it comes to it, we’re going to have to focus on every player in that backline as well – they’re all super-quick whippets.

“I’ve done a little bit of footage on him. He’ll be dangerous but we’re ready for him.”

Capuozzo was also on the scoresheet as Italy continued their improvement by giving reigning Six Nations champions France a major scare during a 29-24 defeat at the start of this year’s tournament.

Hansen feels the Azzurri, who lost 31-14 to England in round two, have never been stronger.

“Anyone would be kidding themselves if they said they’ve seen a better one,” the Connacht player said of Italy’s team. “They got a great win in Wales, and Oz.

Mack Hansen has helped Ireland to wins over Wales and France
Mack Hansen has helped Ireland to wins over Wales and France (Nigel French/PA)

“They’ve been pretty unlucky against France, showed up in Twickenham against England which everyone knows isn’t easy at all.

“They just look really sure of their identity at the moment, of how they want to play the game.

“And they genuinely have some genuine superstars in their team now that are carrying it. They’re not just good, solid Italian players but they’re actually world-class players.”

Hansen is in line for his third successive start of the competition at Stadio Olimpico but is still searching for his first try.

Antoine Dupont, left, denied Mack Hansen a certain try in round two
Antoine Dupont, left, denied Mack Hansen a certain try in round two (Brian Lawless/PA)

The 24-year-old looked certain to score in Ireland’s 32-19 round-two win over Les Bleus before somehow being hauled off the try-line and into touch by the brilliance of Antoine Dupont.

“It just showed his brute strength first of all but it also just shows how smart of a player he is,” Hansen said of France’s captain.

“I’ve seen plenty of people in the same situation where they just try to tackle a player out and that’s kind of it. I’ve never seen anybody go directly for someone’s hips to lift them up so they can’t go forward.

“To be fair to him it was pretty smart. Maybe someone a bit bigger than me could have powered over but I think it just shows what kind of calibre player he really is.

“I don’t know what else I could have done. If I was in that situation again, maybe I’ll just dive or jump in the air or something like that, something a bit different but it was some play from him.”