Nelson Mandela to internet trolls: Year of learning for Wallabies' Ned Hanigan

When Ned Hanigan found out he was travelling to South Africa for the first time, he decided to do some light reading on arguably the country's most revered figure, Nelson Mandela.

"I'm reading his book, Long Walk To Freedom, at the moment, so hopefully I can relate to a few things," Hanigan said. "He's an amazing guy."

Beneath the happy character who constantly jokes with teammates, Hanigan is an intelligent, thoughtful person.

But this year, the learning curve for the former St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, student has been steeper than he could have anticipated.

For whatever reason, Hanigan cops more criticism than any other Wallaby. His introduction to the Test side attracted the attention of the online trolls, flummoxed that he was picked in seven consecutive starting XVs to begin his career.

Hanigan isn't on Twitter, is an occasional user of Instagram and checks out Facebook as often as any other 22-year-old.

As a humble kid from Coonamble who was thrown into the spotlight, he admits there have been some tough moments.

"You've got to try not to read all of it," Hanigan told Fairfax Media. "In the last South Africa game [in Perth], I probably didn't perform to the best that I could have and copped criticism for that. It's all part of it. Each to their own. If you take too much of that on board, it can play on your mind. You need a bit of external motivation ... you might have an off day, but making sure the next game you don't carry the burden on yourself."

Hanigan loves to get out of the rugby bubble wherever possible and is well and truly able to do so by making the six-and-a-half-hour journey home to country NSW.

For the record, there is no Ned Hanigan Oval in Coonamble ... yet.

"I always love getting home," Hanigan said. "I did go to a Grease Lightning performance about two months ago at the Coonamble theatre, which had a few of the locals. It was really entertaining and so funny.

"It's good when I go home I can get away from footy. Dad and I did a fair bit of fencing the last time I was home, which I usually don't like at all. I liked it this time because I don't get to do it much any more. I annoy him because I take my shirt off. He yells at me to get it back on."

Talk to anyone at the Waratahs or Wallabies and they will tell you Hanigan never shuts up.

He is a popular character among the players and perhaps that is why Cheika has continued to have faith in him, even if Jack Dempsey was given a crack in the back row this weekend.

So the people have had their say. Now Ned, how would you like people to think of you on the footy field?

"A hard-working guy that other players who are playing with me can depend on," Hanigan said. "Trying to always look for the next job, get one more, get set early and then not let the bloke next to you down.

"In terms of the comments, the thing is if you miss a tackle, that's letting your mate down. If a bloke on a comment writes that I've missed a tackle, as a rugby player you know when you've made a mistake. If anyone is disappointed, it's the person that's missed the tackle.

"If someone says I haven't made tackles or I'm soft, I know that. It's nothing new what people say."

Overall, though, Hanigan is the kind of youngster who doesn't seem too perturbed by what gets written or said about him.

On his first tour of South Africa, Hanigan is like a wide-eyed kid, speaking enthusiastically about all the things he'd like to get out and see.

To him, he's just happy to be along for the ride in a year that no doubt he will reflect on during the peak of his powers down the track.

"I keep using the word 'surreal' when I explain things, but it all seems not true until you're here," Hanigan said. "You have to take a step back and pinch yourself."

This story Nelson Mandela to internet trolls: Year of learning for Wallabies' Ned Hanigan first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.