Smyth’s Scottish Story: From Selkirk to Super Series
Callum Smyth’s rugby career has been nothing short of a whirlwind so far – and it’s only just getting started.
The 19-year-old prop began his playing journey at the age of four at his local club Kettering RFC where he played all through the age-grades until joining the Northampton Saints when he was thirteen.
“My dad used to be a footballer and was never really into rugby, but my dad’s best friend played for England U16, U18, U20 and he played for Northampton Saints and he said just pop along to the rugby session with his lad. I turned up to my first session and I just loved it.
“I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t play, it’s always just been in my life.”
Whilst playing for Bedford School in the 2021 Merchiston Castle School festival, Callum (who is Scottish Qualified through his Ayr-born mum and maternal grandmother) was asked to be involved in a Scotland U18 training camp. As a result, he made his Scotland U18 playing debut during the U18 6 Nations in France last year.
Off the back of his performance in the tournament, Smyth was asked to continue playing his rugby in Scotland. He made the decision to cross the border, settle in Galashiels and join Premiership outfit Selkirk RFC.
“It was definitely a big jump up. Before coming up to Selkirk, I managed to make my debut for my home team, so it wasn’t my first taste of men’s senior rugby, but it was definitely a different level to what I was playing back home but I think I did ok.
“The collisions were twice as hard, you had boys twice as strong. It was a lot more intense, which I think was good.”
“Selkirk was just the right club for me at the right time – they really did look after me.”
At the beginning of this year, Callum was awarded a once in a lifetime opportunity to follow in the footsteps of internationally capped players and embark on a playing experience in South Africa as part of the prestigious Macphail Rugby Scholarship. He spent five months immersed in South Africa’s renowned rugby culture at the high-performance training facility at Stellenbosch University.
“It was honestly just the best thing ever. Anyone given the chance to go on it I would 100% tell them to go.
“It has changed me as a person and a player, and it has changed my whole outlook on life to be honest with you. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but it is true.”
Callum, who was awarded the scholarship alongside other promising young Scottish Rugby players Munro Job and Guy Fitzpatrick, were joined not just by other rugby players, but by athletes from a whole host of sports who were there to enhance their performance.
“The amount of talent that was there and professional sports people, it was just unbelievable really.
“Because we had a common room, and all the athletes would go down there and mingle and chat, it was a good break from the rugby side of things. So instead of just always chatting about rugby or the line out or scrum, I could chat to the South African netballers about the tournament they had coming up.”
Despite picking up an ankle injury in the first couple weeks of camp, Callum was able to make use of the university’s world-class rehabilitation programme.
“I had done a few ligaments in my ankle and had to have surgery. I didn’t actually take part in many of the sessions but on the flip side, their rehabilitation programme over there is phenomenal.
“I was predicted to have five to six months out of rugby and I actually managed to get back into rugby in two and three quarter months… which is unbelievable really.”
“It was the fittest I’ve ever been.”
Not only was this a time for the prop to grow his skills and play, but also grow on a personal level too.
“I think the biggest thing that I took from it was that you can’t take things for granted.
“When we’d be driving to games or we’d be driving into Cape Town we’d pass a lot of the townships… it was quite poignant at some points, you know seeing families that were starving and really not in a good way and it all just think about ‘let’s not take what we’ve been given for granted’.”
During his time out in South Africa, Callum received a phone call from Head of Player Transition Kenny Murray who told him he was selected to be one of the 15 FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy players at Glasgow Warriors. This base in the pro-teams allows the young players like Callum to not only accelerate their development by being immersed in the pro-team club environment earlier and more often, but also benefit from professional coaches and support staff.
“Again the step up has been massive but it’s really good and beneficial.
“[Training] with the likes of Oli Kebble and Allan Dell who have played in my position, they can talk to me and give me their wisdom and experience and coach me in a way.
“I think I’ve thrived, I think I’ve been doing quite well. I’ve just loved every second of it.”
“I think the big step up for me was managing the workload we have at Glasgow Warriors – it’s a lot harder of a workload and being involved with the pros, it’s more than just a hobby – now it’s your job.”
Alongside being involved with Glasgow Warriors, Callum trains with and plays for the FOSROC Future XV – the newly formed FOSROC Super Series side which is built upon the next generation of young Scottish players. This new team has been introduced to the FOSROC Super Series Championship to better prepare Scotland’s young players for the challenges of international U20 rugby and beyond.
The first seven rounds have been a tough stint for the new side, but Callum stresses that this hasn’t dampened the team’s spirit or intentions.
“We want the reputation where teams respect us and put their hardest team out against us.”
“I think we’ve done really well and I’m proud to be part of Futures.
“I think once we’ve had a few more training sessions and a few more games, I think we could be a threat to some of the teams.”
The FOSROC Future XV have shown some strong performances, with only missing out on a win by one point against Southern Knights in their first ever game and giving reigning Champions Watsonians a run for their money last weekend.
“Our goal is to develop players and get better as a nation at U20s.
“Every week I’ve always mentioned how much better we’ve been training and how much better we’ve been from the previous week.”
Callum not only made an appearance in five out of six of the FOSROC Future XV fixtures so far, but also captained the side during the first three rounds. During times when the scoreboard hasn’t been in their favour, he has used his experience to help his team mates to keep going.
“I think as the captain there’s a sense of reassurance you’ve got to give and as being one of the oldest in the group and this’ll be my second or third year of senior rugby, I’ve had to help the younger lads.”
“It’s just trying to keep heads up and standards up and to try to not get too beat up over the score.
“We have to try and focus on what our goal is which is ultimately to improve and develop players at U20 level so that we can compete more in the Under-20 Six Nations and the World Trophy that will happen next year.”