TWO props who only took up rugby in their mid to late teens and who have made markedly different journeys to Meggetland are now making a big impact with Boroughmuir Bears.
Marcus Goodwin, a 23-year-old tight-head, and Callum McFeat Smith, a 26-year-old loose-head, have been part of Graham Shiel’s playing group since the start of the Sprint Series earlier this year. In that event the Bears showed flashes of what they are capable of with three wins from seven, but it has been in the ongoing Championship where the Edinburgh club have impressed most.
They have won five of seven games played so far to sit third in the table ahead of tonight’s home match against still winless Stirling Wolves, with Goodwin and McFeat Smith key figures in a pack that has more than held its own.
After missing last weekend’s win over Heriot’s with a concussion, Goodwin will look to make an impact off the bench this week, while McFeat Smith will demonstrate his versatility by starting at tight-head (where he played the second half of last week’s game).
Goodwin’s sporting journey could have been different given that, until the age of 16, football was his main passion while he was at Lourdes RC Secondary School in Glasgow and playing for local club Pollock United as a left winger then left back.
“At that time I was keen to try something new and my PE teacher at school had played rugby for GHA, so he suggested I give it a go and I never really looked back once I headed down to Cartha Queens Park for training,” Goodwin explains.
“It was very different from football and it took time to get used to it, but everyone was very welcoming at Cartha and I enjoyed the physical side and the tackling.
“I played one full season in the under-18s at the club and then was straight into senior rugby. I started off playing for the 3rd XV then the 2nd XV and I was learning from people around me.
“Early on I was playing on the wing, but then I got moved to centre and as I started filling out I migrated to hooker before becoming a tighthead prop.
“At the end of that first senior year I was given a taste of things in the 1st XV and then things just built from there over the next few years.”
While he was playing at Cartha, Goodwin was completing a degree in accountancy at the University of The West of Scotland. He recently graduated with a first class degree and is now working as an accountant.
He was also on a steep learning curve on the rugby field as he got to grips with the nuances of the tight-head position.
“I had some great guys to learn from at Cartha like Juan Phyfer and Mark Barrowman,” Goodwin said. “They taught me a lot about scrummaging and propping generally and I can’t thank them enough because they put in extra time with me to help me get better.”
During 2021-22, Goodwin turned a few heads with his performances for Cartha in National League Division One, despite the Dumbreck men eventually being relegated, and Bears defence coach Davie Wilson made contact with them Cartha head coach Thomas Davidson early in 2022 to enquire whether Goodwin would like to try his hand at playing Super6 level.
“I hadn’t really thought about making that step at the time, but after speaking to a few people I was keen to give it a go and before I knew it I was commuting to Edinburgh for training and getting ready for the Sprint Series with the Bears,” Goodwin recounts. “Like at Cartha, at the Bears the guys made me feel so welcome straight away and I just tried to adapt to the step up in intensity.
“The coaches – Graham Shiel, Alex Toolis and Davie Wilson – understood the level I had come from and that it would take me time to get used to the step up but they really helped me with things and, as a recent ex-professional, Alex’s detail on forward play is brilliant. They put a development plan in place for me and over the Sprint and into the Championship I’ve just tried to get better with each game.
“During the Sprint the squad really came together and now in the Championship we seem to be clicking and we are really enjoying our rugby as a group, so long may that continue.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 41)
Meanwhile, McFeat Smith grew up in Hong Kong and took up rugby at 14 playing for the Hong Kong Football Club, where he rose through the junior ranks before earning representative honours with the Hong Kong national team at under-19 level.
After moving into senior rugby, he was selected to play for Hong Kong at the Junior World under-20 Trophy twice.
“In 2015 we played in Portugal and in 2016 we were in Zimbabwe and they were both great events to be a part of,” McFeat Smith, whose father is originally from Glasgow, recounted. “Those experiences taught me a lot about the levels that I needed to be at if I wanted to have a good career in rugby and they gave me that desire to keep my rugby going.
“After the second World Trophy event I was brought into the Hong Kong elite rugby programme as a part-time member while I was at university, and then I became a full-time player in that programme.
“The full-time programme was closely linked to the national team while we also had a squad – the South China Tigers – in the Global Rapid Rugby competition [started in 2019, matches were slightly shorter than the traditional 80 minutes and there were other variations from standard rugby laws in use intended to increase the speed of the game].
“We played against teams like Western Force and Manuma Samoa and the standard was great, but then the pandemic hit, that event had to stop and the elite rugby programme, as it was then, eventually shut down.”
With his career on an upward curve, McFeat Smith found the shutdown of everything hard going, so in a bid to keep his rugby at a good level he began to look at playing overseas.
“With my Dad’s connections to Scotland I knew coming here was an option and although I had been here visiting as a kid, I wanted to experience life here as an adult,” he explains.
“Things moved along and by April I was arriving in Edinburgh and linking up with the Bears. I guess I was taking a bit of a leap of faith, but I am glad I did because it has been really, really good.
“Within a week of landing in Scotland I was playing away to the Ayrshire Bulls in the Sprint Series, so immediately I knew that the standard here was good.
“Through that Sprint Series then into the Championship our squad has grown in confidence as we have got to know each other better and it is a brilliant bunch of guys to be a part of.”
McFeat Smith has also earned full Hong Kong caps. The first came against Malaysia in 2017, followed by an outing against Korea, while more recently he was involved in the World Cup qualifier against Tonga.
They lost that Asia/Pacific 1 play-off 44-22 at the Sunshine Coast Stadium in Australia in the summer, but still have another chance to make it into Pool C at France 2023.
“The final qualification tournament takes place in Dubai in November with ourselves, Kenya, Portugal and the USA involved,” McFeat Smith explains.
“My aim is to be in the squad for that one as it is a big event, so to do that I just need to keep playing well for the Bears over the next few weeks.”