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FEATURE Wes Goosen: 'Edinburgh is loaded with talent and should be doing crazy things'

Wes Goosen: 'Edinburgh is loaded with talent and should be doing crazy things'
6 months ago

Whenever Wes Goosen is fed up with his lot, he thinks of East London, the port city nestled on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. He thinks of his parents, Alan and Kim, proud South Africans who uprooted their family and moved to New Zealand when Goosen was four years old. He thinks of how they sought sanctuary and opportunity for their two boys, forgoing all that was familiar to provide a brighter future.

The Goosens worried about raising children in East London. The city has beautiful beaches, but a reputation for crime, drugs and gangs. They went first to Auckland, then Wellington, where they still live and work today.

“They took us over for my brother and I’s safety, just to get away from it all,” says the Edinburgh wing. “They saw it was going to get worse and worse and they didn’t want us to be around that. You don’t realise until you’re older, the lifestyle, the poverty – I can see why they brought us over. It can be scary. You’ve got your head on a swivel.

“Moving must have been tough for them. There was just the four of us. They had two kids and no support, no-one they knew around. All of their friends and family are still over there. I know they miss it and I think a little part of them wished they still lived there now, but they know it was a good call.

“I thought about that when I was going through injuries last year: I’m getting paid to play and do the job I love. They moved over not knowing anything or anyone. It put things in perspective when it started going bad last year.”

Wes Goosen scored in Edinburgh’s URC victory over Connacht last weekend (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

None of this is to say Goosen found his debut season in Scotland a breeze. He arrived in Edinburgh to much fanfare, a front-liner for the swashbuckling Hurricanes in his peak years. Thirty tries in 66 Super Rugby matches, New Zealand Under-20 honours and a glittering highlight reel of staccato sidesteps and white-hot finishes on his CV.

Then, out of nowhere, his body frayed. He rolled an ankle, delaying his first match. He pulled a calf, played a few games then pulled the other one. He came back from that and hurt the second calf again. Then his hamstring struck him down.

“I’m not gonna sugar-coat it, it was tough. I’d been pretty much injury-free for five or six years, had never had any calf issues. I started messaging the physios back home searching for answers – ‘what’s going on? Have I ever had any signs of calf issues when I was playing there?’

“I never had the flow of momentum I thought I would get. I had this perfect picture I would come over, play how I was back home, really enjoy rugby on this side of the world. It got to the point where I thought, I’m not sure if my body can handle this. I questioned a few things.”

People are looking around going, ‘why have you got this guy over when he’s not playing?’

This maddening array of setbacks threatened to bludgeon Goosen’s typical vibrancy clean out of him. The fear of failing to justify the marquee tag gnawed away. Alan and Kim flew out to watch him last December, but Goosen ended up sitting in the stand beside them.

“I warmed up to play Glasgow two weekends running, and pulled out both times. My parents didn’t see me play. It was gutting.

“Without it being said, there’s that pressure when you are the signing, you have to perform and play. People are looking around going, ‘why have you got this guy over when he’s not playing?’”

In these moments, East London looms into view. So does the vivid yellow bowl of Sky Stadium, home of the Hurricanes.

It was here Goosen played for eight years, in New Zealand’s famous NPC and the rarified surrounds of Super Rugby itself. This was where he came of age and his rugby education was delivered by the ultimate gurus.

Run the gamut of Goosen’s ‘Canes buddies and your back gets sore from scooping up all the dropped mega-names. He’s played with Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane, Dane Coles, the Savea boys, Beauden and Jordie Barrett, Victor Vito, Nehe Milner-Skudder and TJ Perenara. His contacts folder reads like a who’s who of All Black A-listers.

Goosen shared the field with a clutch of All Blacks giants, including Julian Savea and TJ Perenara (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“I idolised Conrad Smith growing up, tried to mould my game on him. He said, ‘if rugby is the worst thing in your life, your life is not too bad’. That puts things quickly into perspective. If you play a bad game, it’s only a game of rugby. But it’s a bit easier when you’re a Hurricane and an All Black!

“They were all established players back then. I was still trying to get my head around like, holy s**t I’m a Hurricane, I’m wearing this jersey, playing in Sky Stadium. The wingers I played with were Milner-Skudder, Cory Jane and Jules Savea – three All Black legends, some of the best wingers they’ve had.

“My stats were pretty good but it was from so many of the walk-ins those boys created. Playing with these guys was crazy, after watching them on TV. The little things they used to say and do and how they read the game was on another level. It was inspiring.”

Goosen’s first touch in Super Rugby was the kind of moment every kid fantasises about and virtually none lives to realise. May 2016. The Hurricanes en route to a glorious title win. The Reds in town. Thirteen minutes on the clock. Beauden Barrett hoists a swooping cross-fielder, Goosen scuttles thirty metres to catch it and round a diving Ayumu Goromaru.

I wasn’t going to stay around and bulls**t that there’s a chance I can push for higher honours.

“Cory Jane and Jules had gone out in the week after they lost to the Sharks in South Africa. Chris Boyd stood them down for a week and said, ‘Wes, you’re going to start’. I was s****ing myself. I did more homework that week than I’ve done in any classroom. I was proper scared.

“I had friends like Matt Proctor and James Marshall I’d played with, those older boys like Dane Coles and Brad Shields, I knew quite well form NPC. They made me feel welcome. Not as many young boys came through back in the day.

“James Marshall was like, ‘Wes, here comes the crosskick.’ I was like, ‘what?’ He says, ‘Beaudie is going to kick it to you.’ It was a blur, like a dream.”

What does a player learn when immersed in a land of Galacticos?

“Everything was a competition,” Goosen says. “If it was a power day, who has got the best five-metre time? Me versus you, let’s go. When you’re in, you’re switched on. But off field, you make the most of it, enjoy the time with the guys, and that’s when you play your best.

“I moulded myself around who I was with. Don’t forget about the fun part. Sometimes people at training are so stressed, they forget to enjoy the whole experience. We are still playing the game we played at five years old.”

As rich an environment and as loving a home as Wellington offered, by 2022, Goosen was ready to move. He knew, in his heart of hearts, the black jersey was a step too far. He wanted to soak up the atmosphere and tussle with the juggernauts Europe had to offer. Edinburgh were playing high-tempo rugby under Mike Blair and seemed an enticing fit.

“I understood I wasn’t going to progress any further. I wasn’t going to stay around and bulls**t that there’s a chance I can push for higher honours.

“I wanted to see what this side of the world was like, teams like Saracens, Leinster, the French teams. I wanted to play against those guys and see what it felt like.

“I spoke to Mike Bair, he wanted to play the style the Kiwi teams play, the fast-paced, attack from anywhere style. That sat well with me. Same alignment and values.”

Much has changed since. Blair has gone, overwhelmed and under-supported as a rookie head coach. Sean Everitt arrived from South Africa and has infused Edinburgh’s ambition with a little pragmatism. Too many turnovers had been conceded and too many tries leaked.

Goosen left the Hurricanes with 30 tries in his 66 Super Rugby appearances (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Goosen’s body has healed. Of the 18 torturous weeks of pre-season, he missed a single session. He has dropped some of the muscle he gained last season and feels better for it. He has played every minute of Edinburgh’s four URC fixtures and scored in the most recent, a nerve-shredding win over Connacht at the Hive.

“Finally I’ve got some consistent minutes. Before this, it was eight months between games. I want to prove to a few people that last year was a freak accident and not who I am. I’ve got that in the back of my mind. There’s a reason I came here, and I’ve been loving playing rugby again.

“Edinburgh is on an upward trend. What Sean is doing with the team is really good, the boys have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do. We’ve still got so much talent to come back with Emiliano Boffelli and Darcy Graham. Edinburgh is loaded. The talent in the team, it should be doing crazy things. Bill Mata is there, Boffelli is there, you’ve got all the Scotland boys. I don’t want to jinx it but this year could be a really good one for the club.”

His parents are never far from his thoughts, especially when darkness descends.

“Talking about my mum and dad moving to New Zealand always motivates me. They gave me the opportunity so I need to give them my best to show them it was worth it.

“What’s keeping me going is I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of where I can get to. Even back home I was playing good rugby and I feel I could take it to a whole other level. The unknown is exciting.”


Johan 211 days ago

Just imagine his parents didn’t flee ‘terrible South Africa’… he could be wearing a World Cup winning medal around his neck right now…

Pecos 211 days ago

Hopefully he can break into the Scottish team & thrive.

Plenty of examples to follow. James Lowe, Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson Parks, all left NZ for the same rugby reason. There’s no reason why Goosen can’t have the same impact.

He may even make it back in the future. I mean Brad Shields & Willie Heinz are now back in super rugby after stints for England under Eddie Jones.

The rugby world’s his oyster. Good luck to him.

Nickers 211 days ago

Such an awesome player. I always wished for his sake he would head north to qualify for England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales. He doesn’t fit the mould of a traditional ABs winger, and had a very average forward pack at the Hurricanes so never had the same opportunities to showcase his skills, and even there was constantly overlooked for much worse players. Probably a victim of his utility status. At 28, combined with his recent injury woes, he has probably reached the end of his prime years on the wing. I hope a shift to centre could see him running out for Scotland at the next WC.

Utiku Old Boy 212 days ago

Good article about a good man. Has been on a tough streak with injuries so hope he is on the other side of that. Excellent all-round skills and plenty of heart. Not surprising to read of his motivation - just confirms his values are in the right place. All the best!

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