Insight into “freakish athlete” Zander Fagerson who is getting better and better

Zander Fagerson will start for Scotland in Paris on Sunday in the Six Nations
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Zander Fagerson is getting better and better as a tighthead prop and will be a key man for Scotland in Paris on Sunday.

And Gary Strain, the University of Strathclyde Director of Rugby and specialist skills coach with Scottish Rugby, worked with Fagerson for the first time when the latter was in his late teens at Glasgow Hawks and he is enjoying watching his career go from strength to strength.

Strain, himself a well-regarded prop who still turns out for Hawks in the Tennent’s Premiership and has played professionally for Glasgow Warriors, Massy in France and Newcastle Falcons, was pleased to see Fagerson back in the Scotland number three jersey against Wales on February 11.

Now fully recovered from the hamstring injury that saw him miss the Guinness Six Nations opener versus England, he will need to put in a big shift if Scotland are to make it three wins from three in the competition against France.

“Zander is a guy who works very hard at his game and always wants to get better and these kind of big Six Nations games are the ones that he will relish,” 34-year-old Strain told TRU.

“When he turned up at Hawks from Strathallan School a few years ago, straight away you could see that he was a freakish athlete. He was a big lad, a powerful guy and you saw his potential straight away.

“He was obviously a young guy and was still learning the ropes, but he could certainly do things that the rest of us couldn’t around the pitch, like the way he carried the ball with such power.

“So, from a young age, he had something about him. If you speak to him, he’ll tell you some stories of that first year out of school playing for the Hawks second XV and facing some tough days against more experienced props, but he learnt quickly and I think the club was good for him and he was good for the club.

“He integrated really well with the guys and he is certainly one of those players that, once he has moved up the levels, has always come back to the club when he can to try and pass on his knowledge to younger props.

“When he was at Hawks, I was more of just a player then rather than a player/coach, but I tried to help him out as best I could as a more experienced prop with tips and tricks of the trade.

“As a result, it was quite nice during Covid times when I was in with Glasgow Warriors helping out with some scrum coaching and we got to work together again.

“As much as I was the scrum coach at that time, his role had changed in the squad and no longer was he the young pup like he had been at Hawks, but he was the senior guy with the Warriors that everybody listened to.

“The speed of his acceleration after one season with Hawks, often in the seconds, was unbelievable really, but that just showed his quality.

“I have a lot of time for Zander and it is great to see him playing regularly for Scotland and, of course, being a British & Irish Lion.”

As Strain mentions, Fagerson’s rise in senior rugby was a fast one and he was soon making a Glasgow Warriors debut. After doing well for the under-20s, he earned his first full Scotland cap in the Six Nations of 2016 at the age of 20.

Now 27, Sunday in the Stade de France is set to be Fagerson’s 56th appearance for his country.

Busy few days for Strain before watching Fagerson

Before he settles down to watch the Scotland game on Sunday, Strain will have his coaching hat on today (Friday) and his playing hat on come Saturday.

The University of Strathclyde are taking on the University of Glasgow in the Glasgow Varsity matches on Friday at Scotstoun with the women’s game kicking off at 5.30pm and the men’s match to follow at 7.15pm.

On Saturday, Strain is set to complete the regular top-flight season with Hawks by playing against league toppers Hawick at Balgray at 3pm.

And Strain, who currently works with a lot of props in the Scottish system including the men’s under-18s, under-20s and the women’s national team, is also looking forward to seeing how Scottish Rugby’s ‘Scrum School’ grows.

To help improve the standard of front-row play across the board, the governing body launched the new programme earlier this season.

Consisting of a series of practical workshops, online resources and ‘summer camp’ events, Scrum School has set out to “break perceptions and provide both coaches and players with the knowledge, skills and understanding required to excel when it comes to scrum time”.

“We’re all bound to the same plan”: Fagerson enjoying Scotland’s journey

In his time with Scotland, Fagerson has had ups and downs and right now, is certainly one of the former periods.

He is embracing the culture that head coach Gregor Townsend has created in the group as well as enjoying playing international rugby with his younger brother Matt.

Fagerson senior said this week:  “I’ve been really lucky and privileged to have played for Scotland as many times as I have.

“Ever since I’ve been involved in the squad, it’s been about going out there and trying to win. In years gone by, we’d have the occasional good result, but since I’ve been involved it’s been about pushing every team that we play. Where we are now is a culmination of some really good years of togetherness.

“Most of the squad has been around for the last four years, a World Cup cycle, and the combinations are all really comfortable with each other. It’s a real tight-knit group. We’re all good mates and like hanging out with each other.

“We’ve really addressed that from the last World Cup. We’re all bound to the same plan. It’s an exciting time to be part of this squad.”