MATT FAGERSON might be the youngest player in the 41-man Scotland training squad which has congregated in St. Andrews during the early part of this week, but you would never guess it from the way he carries himself. The 19-year-old exudes a calmness which is hard to reconcile with his lack of miles on the clock – although the presence of big brother Zander has undoubtedly helped him ease into the full international environment.
The elder sibling broke into the Scotland set-up in the Spring of 2016 – making his full debut against England at the age of 20 – and the prop has, thus far, proven to be a beacon of light in a historically troublesome position for Scotland. Zander has already reached his 50th appearance for Glasgow Warriors and provides the perfect career blueprint for Matt who is on course to replicate his older brother’s feats for both club and country in the coming years.
“He [Zander] came in as a younger guy as well and has been through the whole process before,” says little brother. “That really does help me. If I do something wrong he will give me a pointer or a kick, depending on what he feels like!”
“I’m really just trying to soak it all in. I’m training with the best players in the country, so I’m just trying to get as much out of the camp as I can by tapping into the more experienced guys such [John] Barclay or [Ryan] Wilson.”
Fagerson is hardly an overnight sensation, having been involved in international age-grade rugby at Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 level (as a key man in the team’s march to a best ever fifth place finish during this summer’s Junior World Cup), but to be involved in Gregor Townsend’s plans at this stage – especially given the strength in depth of Scotland’s back-row options – is an impressive achievement nonetheless.
“You don’t turn up to a camp just to be there and have fun,” says Fagerson. “You have to train, you have to focus and get your head down, do the hard yards and the work. It will be great getting stuck in as much as I can. Obviously I grew up watching a lot of the guys I am training with on TV, but you soon learn they are all down-to-earth boys and dead easy to talk to.”
“All the older boys have been really welcoming and have helped me out at every chance. For myself, personally, it’s about getting used to the set up and the way Gregor [Townsend] wants to play. I guess come Autumn time, depending on how you’re playing for your club, everyone has a claim to make it into that squad.”
It’s the joke of this year’s camp that the Fagerson brothers are like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the hilarious comedy, Step Brothers – however, you wont find the two constructing a bunk-bed any time soon.
“I arrived at the hotel yesterday to find out I was sharing with Zander. I laughed and thought it was a practical joke, but I can confirm we are in the same room. To be honest, I’ve probably got more stick about it from Zander than any of the other lads. It’s actually been a good thing, he has been helping me out with learning different calls and different plays,” says little brother.
Although Fagerson’s immediate focus is on making a splash with Gregor Townsend in St Andrews, the back-row also has a new head-coach at club level to impress in the form of Glasgow Warriors’ recent arrival Dave Rennie. The former-Chiefs chief took the reigns of his new club for the first time on Saturday in a narrow loss to Northampton Saints at Stirling County’s Bridgehaugh. Fagerson started the match and played well, winning a number of penalties and making a big impact at the breakdown.
“You can already see he [Rennie] is a great coach and he has brought with him a wealth of knowledge from Super Rugby. All the boys have taken to him and he has been a great influence already. The hit out against Northampton was a good benchmark for us in the way we want our season to go. We’ve got a really youthful squad, so there is going to be a lot of competition for places. [Ryan] Wilson is there, Adam Ashe too and of course Callum Gibbins has come across. It’s really going to be competitive [in the back-row],” he said.
Fagerson faces an uphill challenge in breaking into both the Glasgow Warriors and Scotland starting XV, but as the old proverb states: iron sharpens iron – and right now the back-row is looking razor-sharp.