MUNSTER’S favourite Wallaby John Langford caught up with many old friends in Limerick last week.
But there was one he hadn’t counted on bumping it. Langford didn’t recognise the current Munster and Ireland star when he dropped in on the province’s training session at UL last week. After all, 12 years have passed since the four-time capped Wallaby returned home from Munster.
During his three years playing for the province, Langford lived on Ballinacurra Road and he would occasionally meet a young Munster fan living across the road.
Langford explained: “It’s made my trip to see this young fella and realise that he’s gone on to play for Munster and Ireland.
“He said, ‘do you remember me?’ And I didn’t, he used to live across the street and he was only 10 or 11 years old, I didn’t realise it was him until he told me.
“He said ‘when you played for the Barbarians you gave me your gear bag,’ and I couldn’t remember that either.
“I probably gave him a pair of socks too so I’ll have to hit him up for a bit of gear now!”
The starry-eyed young fella has grown up to become Munster and Ireland prop Dave Kilcoyne.
John Langford joined Munster for three seasons, played 30 times for the province between 1999 and the start of the 2001-02 campaign and, in the process, made his mark on the homegrown squad from the outset with his professional approach and attitude.
However, the abrasive second-row might well have ended up playing in the blue of Leinster after leaving the Brumbies in 1999.
Langford explained: “I was looking for a club in France and England but with their foreign player restrictions I’d left my run too late.
“I didn’t know what to do so the Brumbies assistant coach, Jake Howard, suggested Ireland. So I got in touch with Peter Boyle from Leinster, started talking to them and I was all packed up and ready to go.
“It was around the time of the 1999 World Cup and all the Irish players playing abroad were coming home to play for their provinces and Leinster stopped ringing for a couple of weeks.
“So I rang and told them I was ready to go and they said ‘we don’t need you, Malcolm O’Kelly is coming back, why don’t you give Munster a call?’
“So I rang Munster and, after playing for the Barbarians in Twickenham, (head coach) Declan Kidney had sent Niall O’Donovan and Brian O’Brien over to meet me.”
Langford met the Munster reps at Heathrow en route from Sydney to Limerick.
Langford extended his hand for a conventional greeting, O’Brien offered his.
“I’ll never forget, we were in the foyer of the hotel and I put my hand out to shake Brian O’Brien’s hand and he went straight to grab me on the gut to see if I had any extra weight and he said ‘you’ll be alright’, that was my first introduction to Munster!”
Langford quickly endeared himself to his new teammates. Right from the outset, he made it his business to speak to every Munster player, meeting the welcome more than halfway.
A lot of the Munster players were becoming professionals late in their careers, but Langford brought a thoroughly professional attitude, in the way he prepared for matches and managed injuries.
As Munster team manager Niall O’Donovan recalled since, “If he (John Langford) was hurt in a match he’d be up every two hours that night icing it. We came from an era where you might have a couple of pints and go to bed!”
Langford’s athleticism in the second row and around the park made him an ever-present in Munster’s Heineken Cup side for the province’s first two successful campaigns, with the run to the 2000 final against Northampton at Twickenham and the following term’s progress to a controversial semi-final defeat by Stade Francais in Lille.
“For the 2000 Heineken Cup final against Northampton at Twickenham, I think there were 60,000 at the game and 44,000 were Irish people and to see what is considered the home of rugby as a sea of red and full of Irish,” he told munsterrugby.ie
“I still haven’t gotten over the fact that we didn’t win, and I’ll take that to the grave.
“I know times were good back then, but the support and effort the fans go to, and you still see that now, is just fantastic because it’s not cheap to do it. It’s great to be a part of their lives and it gives you that little bit of extra edge to go that bit harder.
“It’s great to see the red army and everything that has sprung up from that.”
Langford, who played club rugby with both Shannon and Garryowen while in Limerick, attended the clubs Munster Senior Cup semi-final clash at Thomond Park on Friday night.
And Langford can also claim to have played a part in the Wallabies victory over Ireland in last weekend’s autumn international at the Aviva Stadium.
“Australia asked me to present the jerseys to the players before the captain’s run, which is a great honour,” Langford said.
Langford’s international allegiance might be gold, but Munster will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I fell on my feet when I landed here in Munster,” Langford enthused.
“The underdog status was a big thing, having a point to prove and the way that the guys bonded together.
“You can’t buy a team, you build a team and the coaches had a lot to do with that, Declan Kidney, Brian O’Brien and Niall O’Donovan. My closest friends are my Brumbies team-mates and my Munster team-mates, and that’s why I come over.”
Langford continued to play with Sydney University until 2011 when he retired at the age of 43.