Connacht back row Shamus Hurley-Langton. James Crombie/INPHO

'Because of my name, I always felt connected to Ireland'

Kiwi back row Shamus Hurley-Langton has made a strong impression for Connacht.

WHEN CONNACHT ANNOUNCED the signing in 2022, most people presumed that Shamus Hurley-Langton was Irish-qualified.

The spelling of his forename was a bit different but that surname surely meant the New Zealand-born back row was qualified to wear the green jersey.

So it was a surprise when Connacht clarified that it wasn’t the case, even if Hurley-Langton evidently had Irish roots. It turns out they were too distant in the past to make him eligible for Ireland.

Sitting in one of the meeting rooms at Connacht’s training base in sunny Galway, Hurley-Langton – who hails from the Taranaki region in the west of New Zealand’s North Island – explains how his ancestry dates a fair bit further back.

“The Hurleys came out to Taranaki very early on when New Zealand was getting settled, they set up a dairy factory in South Taranaki,” says Hurley-Langton, who turned 24 on Monday.

“Where that was set up, there’s actually a community called Hurleyville and that’s where my mum was born.

“Because of my name, I always felt connected to Ireland and wanted to visit. My mum had been here and Hurley is obviously a very Irish name.”

He’s pretty sure his father’s side of the family, the Langtons, came from England, while he has some Scottish blood too.

Taranaki is an agricultural area so it’s no surprise to hear that Hurley-Langton’s father, James Langton, runs a dairy farm near the small town of Ōpunake.

They have just under 300 cows and Hurley-Langton jokes that his father is ready to retire sooner rather than later having started working on the farm at the age of 16.

Shamus himself grew up getting stuck into the kind of hard work that was undoubtedly decent preparation for playing rugby.

“Dad was good at giving me a bit of pocket money for doing it, so that taught me the value of money when I was younger.

“I’ve fond memories of Dad waking me up at 4.30 in the morning and we’d go milk cows, come back for breakfast, it was all good.”

His mother, Pauline Hurley, was a PE teacher when Shamus was growing up and is now the deputy principal at Hāwera High School, 30 minutes from where his dad’s farm is.

He remembers heading to his mother’s PE classes on his days off from school to get an extra fitness session in, more preparation for rugby. 

shamus-hurley-langton-with-his-family-after-the-game Hurley-Langton with family in Galway. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

And that was all he really wanted to do. Like many Kiwi kids, Hurley-Langton dreamed about being an All Black from as early as he can remember.

Taranaki, as with most places in New Zealand, is rugby country.

“It’s like the GAA,” says Hurley-Langon. “There’s a club in every community… at least there was. Back in the day, there were a lot more clubs because there were more people in the small towns, the farms were smaller so you had more people working.

“As farms got bigger, dairy factories amalgamated and it’s harder to have those little clubs. But there’s still that basis of every community having their club, like the GAA here.”

His dad played for Coastal Rugby club alongside Kevin ‘Smiley’ Barrett, the father of All Blacks stars Beauden, Scott, and Jordie. The Barretts’ dairy farm is only 15 minutes up the road from the Langton plot.

Shamus started with the Southern Rugby Club in Hāwera, where his mother lives and where he spent most of the week when he was growing up. Southern is also the home club of former Ireland international Michael Bent.

“He’s actually still playing for Southern,” says Hurley-Langton of 37-year-old prop Bent.

“And I was meant to play against him in club rugby in my last game before I came over to Ireland [in 2022] but he got called into the Irish squad when they were touring New Zealand. It would have been cool.”

When the time came to head to secondary school, rugby-mad Hurley-Langton enrolled at Francis Douglas Memorial College in the city of New Plymouth about an hour’s drive north.

It’s the same school all of the Barrett boys came through, as well as former All Black Conrad Smith and a few other Super Rugby players.

“Jordie Barrett was four years ahead of me at school,” says Hurley-Langton. “That was the best First XV we’ve ever had – Jordie, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Jordie’s brother Blake was a very good player as well, Logan Crowley who plays for Taranaki now.

“They’d walk around school and I’d just be in awe of them, they were my heroes.”

Having already represented the Chiefs U18s, Hurley-Langton was offered a place in the Taranaki academy out of school but decided to head south for the capital city of Wellington in order to study, even if playing professional rugby was still his main goal.

shamus-hurley-langton-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try Hurley-Langton celebrates a try for Connacht. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

He took up a degree in graphic design, which he completed from Ireland a few months ago thanks in large part to the cajoling of his mother. Hurley-Langton knows it’s great to have that qualification in his back pocket and his sister recently called on his skills for a logo for her Instagram page sharing gluten-free recipes for celiacs.

Hurley-Langton didn’t get a place in the Wellington rugby academy initially so had to impress for the university’s U19 side. His performances earned him a place in the wider New Zealand U20 squad despite being a year young and he was subsequently brought into the Wellington academy.

It was hugely frustrating that the New Zealand U20 programme the following year was canned due to Covid because Hurley-Langton would have been right in the mix.

And while he was making progress on the pitch, Hurley-Langton had to pay his way in Wellington.

On the summer breaks from university, he’d go back to Wellington early and work construction jobs. That meant being up at the crack of dawn for academy gym sessions, heading off to work on a building site, then returning to training on the pitch later the same day.

It was exhausting stuff so he was happy when an old family friend offered him work in a new bar in Wellington where he worked night shifts serving drinks. Mercifully, it was a calm spot and he never had to throw anyone out.

“It was a nice place where they brewed their own craft beer so it wasn’t like a club or anything! It was young professionals and older people wanting a beer at the end of the week. I came close a couple of times but they were pretty civil.”

In 2020, Hurley-Langton missed out on making the senior Wellington squad for the National Provincial Championship [NPC]. It was a big blow but he was involved in a pre-season friendly against Manawatu in which the opposition openside got injured.

The following week, Hurley-Langton signed for Manawatu and was soon making his NPC debut at the age of 20, going on to enjoy a superb campaign. He had another excellent 2021 season but couldn’t crack Super Rugby despite being part of the Hurricanes’ wider training squad.

Connacht had been following him closely. The Irish province scout the NPC for players and they felt Hurley-Langton had serious potential. His agent let him know there was interest and the back row spoke with head of rugby operations Tim Allnutt and then head coach Andy Friend.

shamus-hurley-langton Hurley-Langton during his first season with Connacht. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Hurricanes weren’t committing to giving Hurley-Langton a contract and the offer from Connacht was too good to turn down.

“Ever since I had missed out on the U20s, there was some frustration that had started to build,” says Hurley-Langton. “Without sounding entitled, I kinda felt I deserved an opportunity.

“Connacht offered me the chance to come out and be a full-time professional player, which was my dream.

“We also talked about the style of rugby here. That interested me quite a bit. At the time in New Zealand as an openside, I wasn’t getting a lot of ball. I was put on the edge and had to clean, didn’t really have as many carries. That was something I prided myself on in my game. Connacht just made sense.”

Hurley-Langton had never been to Europe so even though he was excited, the move was daunting. In the months before he left New Zealand, he spent more time back in Taranaki than he had since his school days.

Back among friends on home soil with the imposing Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano, dominating the landscape and the ocean nearby, Hurley-Langton admits there were pangs to stay. But he’s delighted he made the move nearly two years ago now.

He calls himself “a quiet kinda guy” so it took a while to feel at home in Galway, where he is fully comfortable now. He lives a short walk from Connacht’s Dexcom Stadium and has been embraced by the province’s supporters.

The proximity of so many cool European cities is another perk, something we take for granted living in this part of the world. Hurley-Langton has seen the Mona Lisa in Paris and visited places like London and Amsterdam. His favourite spot so far has been Barcelona. 

He’s known as ‘Moose’ in Connacht, a nickname that came from the spelling of his forename, which he got from his grandfather. Hurley-Langton thinks it was a phonetic spelling for people in New Zealand when ‘Seamus’ might have caused confusion.

Watching him play now, you’d never guess that Hurley-Langton wasn’t always a breakdown specialist.

Only his fellow back row, Cian Prendergast, has won more breakdown turnovers for Connacht this season.

shamus-hurley-langton The Kiwi back row enjoys life in Galway. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Hurley-Langton has become an important player for the western province over the past two seasons. Predominantly featuring at openside but also covering the other two back row slots, his all-court game has involved lots of jackal action. 

But it wasn’t until he made his debut for Manawatu in 2020 that he really began to go after poaches.

“Before I started playing for Manawatu, I was mainly just a number eight,” says Hurley-Langton. “They needed an openside flanker and I said I could do it.

“I made my debut with Aaron Smith because he couldn’t go on the All Blacks tour because his partner was having a baby. It was so cool. He pretty much said to me that any time I felt I could get a turnover or get into a ruck, just go for it, don’t think about it.

“He said he’d take my place in the defensive line. So I was like, ‘Oh, jeez, this guy is expecting me to get turnovers now.’ It worked well, I got a couple of turnovers in that first game and I was thinking it was something I could really add to my game.”

He doesn’t like to overthink the breakdown, nor does he overtrain the skills. Once a week, he does five or six reps, mixing up the drills each time.

“You can’t really replicate the breakdown in training. It’s a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision to get your head in there and go for the ball.”

Hurley-Langton does add that Connacht contact skills coach Collie Tucker, who is also in charge of the scrum, has worked with him on the small details that can make a difference at the breakdown.

It’s something that has stood out to him about playing rugby in Ireland – the microscopic detail involved. Hurley-Langton reckons there might be more raw talent in New Zealand but Irish rugby’s attention to detail and work ethic are points of difference.

Another thing that has impressed him is how fans in European rugby are “a bit more energetic in games,” with the stands close to the pitch.

That support is another reason Hurley-Langton is so happy where he is. He had a decision to make in the last couple of months as his initial Connacht contract was due to expire at the end of this season.

Hurley-Langton took time to consider all his options but in the end, felt that Connacht was the best place for him and signed on for two more years until the summer of 2026.

Hurley-Langton could qualify for Ireland through residency by mid-2027 when he will still only be 27. He admits he has given it thought but highlights that the sheer competition for Ireland’s back row places won’t fade any time soon.

For now, Hurley-Langton is enjoying the adventure and it’s fitting that a Taranaki boy is so happy on the west coast of the island.

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