One of the vivid images of this year’s Six Nations championship was the almost comic vision of Ireland’s Australian wing star Mack Hansen desperately wriggling to touch down for a try but being held up in the seemingly superhuman clutches of Antoine Dupont on the French line.
Once more on Wednesday, Hansen was unable to break the bullocking French halfback’s mastery as Dupont was deservedly named player of the tournament in Europe’s annual championship for a record-equalling third time.
Hansen was one of three Irish players on the shortlist for the award, alongside Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan, up against the French trio of backs Dupont, Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud.
But while Hansen, who won two man of the match awards during the tournament, could at least enjoy the most satisfying laugh with Ireland beating the French before going on to lift the grand slam and the championship itself, there was still no argument about who remains the best player in the European game.
“It showed his brute strength for a start – but it also showed what a smart player he is too,” reflected Canberra’s former Australia Under 20 player Hansen at the time about the remarkable moment in Paris when Dupont wrapped him up and stopped him scoring.
It was so freakish that former Wallabies skipper George Gregan called it a “Cirque du Soleil-type” performance.
“I’ve never before seen anyone go for someone’s hips to lift them off the ground so they can’t go forward,” admitted Hansen, who’s starred for Ireland since moving to Galway and opting to represent the nation of his mum’s birth.
“There was nothing I could really do about it. I think it shows what sort of high-calibre player he really is.”
It was the third time in four years that Dupont, a previous World Player of the Year, had taken the Six Nations top player prize as he became only the second player to earn a hat-trick of awards after Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll (2006, 2007 and 2009).
Fans were asked to vote from a shortlist of six nominees, with 26 per cent of the 138,000 voters plumping for Dupont, who was also selected in their ‘team of the tournament’.
Hansen didn’t make that select team but two other Australians did – Canberra’s Irish prop Finlay Bealham and Melbourne’s Scotland centre Sione Tuipulotu, who have also taken advantage of their British Isles’ family connections to play for their adopted countries.
1 Andrew Porter (Ireland), 2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland), 3 Finlay Bealham (Ireland), 4 Thibaud Flament (France), 5 James Ryan (Ireland), 6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), 7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland), 8 Caelan Doris (Ireland); 9 Antoine Dupont (France), 10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland), 11 James Lowe (Ireland), 12 Sione Tuipulotu (Scotland), 13 Huw Jones (Scotland), 14 Damian Penaud (France), 15 Hugo Keenan (Ireland).