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IN-DEPTH: Comeback Kid Hurrell Taking Centre Stage

Will Hurrell is open and honest when he talks about ‘losing his way’ as a youngster – but back on track and on top of his game, the centre is now keen to grab his top-flight opportunity with both hands.

He’s only 27, but the former England U20 international has already scaled the rugby pyramid – and after a blockbuster season in Doncaster colours and a storming start to his Bristol career, Hurrell is determined to kick on again.

“I’ve settled in really well here and the boys have been good; there’s a really good atmosphere and I’m enjoying being here,” he says.

"It’s always difficult coming into a new team and getting integrated into the group, but the boys have been very welcoming and I’m very happy.

“One of the reasons I came here was because I saw the ambition and wanted to be part of it.”

Two visits to Ashton Gate last season, including the second-leg of the Championship play-off final, was enough to convince Hurrell that this was where he wanted be – he liked what he had seen.

GRAPPLE: Hurrell tackles Marco Mama during the Championship play-off semi-final first leg at Castle Park (Photo: JMP UK). 

And the feeling was reciprocated, with Bristol’s coaching team quickly taking a shine to a player who scored against them in both legs of the final – and despite such an impressive showing last season, Hurrell was under no illusions as to the challenge that faced him in the West Country.

“I knew it would be tough, because there are a lot of good players in the squad,” he said.

“But I wanted to come here, try and improve as much as I could and work my way into the team. I’ve been lucky enough to represent the club so far this season and it’s been really good – definitely tough – but worth it.”

But it hasn’t always been that straight forward for Hurrell, who was named in the Championship team of the season for the 2015/16 campaign.

Having been released from Leicester Tigers’ academy at 19-years-old and after a short stint at London Welsh, he headed for Aston University intent on ‘growing up’ and recapturing his focus on and off the field.

It proved to be the change of scenery he required and a spell at Coventry RFC in National One saw a rejuvenated Hurrell revive his yearning for a game he admits to have ‘fallen out of love with’ in the past.

“I think I went a bit off course when I was younger,” he says.

“I went to London Welsh after Leicester – we won the league there – but I didn’t get kept on and that’s when I decided to go to university and re-evaluate my life. I stuck in there a couple of years and then it was actually playing with Coventry in National One that I started to get a real passion back for my rugby and thought that I really had to give it a go – and then after that, I signed straight to Donny (Doncaster).

BOSH: Hurrell runs through Sale Sharks' Will Addison during the Anglo-Welsh Cup match at Ashton Gate (Photo: JMP UK).

“Just taking that time away really helped me refocus and helped me grow as a person, so when I came back I felt much stronger and ready to push on.

“My degree gave me a real focus point – because I think I lost that when I was younger.

“I think I just lost my way a bit – some times you do that when you’re younger. I had my own issues to figure out and I had to grow up as a person and I think being in a rugby environment from such a young age, maybe I put myself under a bit too much pressure.

“I did fall out of love with the game for a bit, sort of thinking: ‘what am I doing and what do I want to do?’ But that time away helped me to start enjoying it again and that made me want to work harder and harder.

“When I was younger, around 19, I never used to do extras after training or anything like that – I thought I had made it and it’s about growing up real quick and I know that’s tough, but that’s what you’ve got to do.

“Rugby is a tough environment, it’s very competitive and you’ve got to be on your game constantly and all I’d say to people is you’ve got to do what makes you happy and just try and be really positive.

“I never used to be a positive person, but now I don’t have any negativity in my life, but it took me a while to get to that point.”

The fresh outlook is clearly working, with Hurrell one of only a handful of Bristol players to have started every Premiership game so far this season - to good effect too, topping the turnover charts and making a name for himself as the fulcrum of Mark Tainton’s midfield.

DELIGHT: Hurrell hugs Mark Bakewell after Bristol pick up their first win of the season in all competitions (Photo: JMP UK). 

“From a personal point of view, I’m pleased with how it’s going and I’m always trying to learn. Especially at this level, it’s the first time I’ve played this level consistently, so I’m always trying to pick up new little things to add to my game.

“I’m able to draw on the experience of people like Peely (Dwayne Peel), Gav (Henson) and Tusi (Pisi), which is hugely beneficial.

“This season is the first time I have played any thirteen (outside centre), so I’ve had to really pay attention to what the coaches and the experienced players want me to do.

“They offer a lot of insight into how to do your job really well and it’s just tiny things they’ll say during training and after games that I pick up, write down and try and work on.

“It’s great to be around players of such experience and that can only benefit my game.”

Away from rugby, Hurrell hopes to utilise his mathematics degree and start his own business in the near future and admits things could have been very different had a job interview at PriceWaterhouseCoopers been successful during his years away from the professional game.

“I nearly got the job,” he says. “So it could have been a very different story.”

That venture proved unsuccessful, but his spell at Bristol, although still in its infancy, has been quite the opposite.

Hurrell’s rugby stock continues to rise and the player who almost gave up on the game is dreaming big once again.

By Will Carpenter.