Matt Fagerson may be the baby of the squad at this week’s Scotland training camp in St Andrews but he is eager to put his best foot forward and refuses to rule out the possibility of forcing his way into the autumn Test series reckoning.
The 19-year-old Glasgow Warriors back-rower doesn’t have to look far for inspiration when it comes to a fast-track journey into the Test arena as his older brother, Zander, who he is rooming with at the Old Course Hotel get-together, had only just turned 20 when he became the fourth youngest Scotland prop ever when he came off the bench in the 2016 Calcutta Cup match.
The back-row is a more competitive arena than his brother’s at tighthead, of course, and the younger Fagerson admits that the primary focus of these few days is to take in the atmosphere of the full international squad and learn as much as he can.
“For the meantime it is just getting used to the set-up at a Scotland camp and the way [head coach] Gregor [Townsend] wants to play,” said the Scotland Under-20 cap.
“I just want to soak it all in. You are training with the best guys in the country. So get as much out of it as I can, tap into the more experienced guys, [John] Barclay, [Ryan] Wilson and people like that and enjoy it.
“I grew up watching a lot of them so it is pretty cool but they are down-to-earth guys and quite easy to talk to. John [Barclay] has been great and I’ve spoken to Greig [Laidlaw] as well and they are very welcoming and helped me out.”
That said, Fagerson made clear that he is not here as a wide-teen with his autograph book.
“Come autumn time, depending on how you are playing for your club, everyone has a claim for a game,” he said.
“You don’t just turn up to a camp just to be there and have fun. You have to train and you have to focus and get your head down, do the hard yards and the work. It will be good getting stuck in as much as I can.
“Zander came in as a young guy as well and has been through the whole process before. It helps. If I do something wrong he will give me a pointer or a kick, depending on what he feels like. He is a big help.”
It’s not just fraternal familiarity for Fagerson this week as he is among team-mates from Glasgow, the under-20s and working with a coaching staff he knows well from Scotstoun. After playing against Canada A in a pre-season game at Stirling a year ago, the forward went on to make nine appearances for the Warriors last season, making his debut against Ulster when he replaced Wilson off the bench.
Townsend is a big admirer of the youngster, who followed his brother from the High School of Dundee to Strahallan, and has played his club rugby for Glasgow Hawks while in the academy system.
Back in April the now Scotland coach was glowing in his praise.
“He’s a player with real potential,” Townsend said. “He played very well for the Under 20s this year at seven, but he did a lot of ball-carrying. He’s someone we have high hopes for in the future.
“He’s 18. Just now he’s an excellent ball-carrier and to have that at seven is a bonus. If he grows more he could develop into someone who could play No 8 at the highest level.
“We believe any player coming into our system can play for Scotland, but he’s obviously playing at professional level as an 18-year-old and he’s playing very well for the 20s. So, if he carries on working hard, he can obviously achieve a lot in the game. He has a great role model in his brother.”
Asked what position he sees his future in, Fagerson replied: “No 8 or six [blindside flanker] and I played a bit of seven when I was in Georgia with the 20s. pPlayed seven during the [U20] Six Nations when one of our boys was injured.”
It is that kind of versatility which Vern Cotter always valued highly and is sure to stand Fagerson in good stead under the new regime just as much.
Fagerson got around four weeks off after returning from the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Georgia, where the Scots achieved a best-ever finish of fifth, before throwing his youthful energy back into pre-season.
He has another year left as an Under-20, with the world championships in Argentina next year already whetting his appetite, and Fagerson feels that excellent performance by the young Scots in June has given him a confidence boost heading into the new season, and a feeling that there is a genuine ‘golden generation’ of talent on the verge of breaking through.
“That 20s group was a group of very talented guys,” he said. “There are a lot of players in a lot of positions who were class.”
When Zander came into the squad there was much interest in his ‘Renaissance Man’ qualities, with a hinterland of champion mountain biking and singing in the National Boys Choir. Matt fares pretty well in the all-rounder stakes with his older brother and said: “I was quite a multi-sport person at school, cricket, football, bit of tennis and athletics, but by the age of 15 rugby was my main thing.”
Fagerson will head back to Scotstoun tomorrow and knows full well that before he can start dreaming of following in his brother’s footsteps, he needs to nail down a regular place in the Glasgow squad under new coach Dave Rennie.
“Dave has come in and had a great impact with the guys already,” he said. “[Attack coach] Jason O’Halloran and [forwards coach] Humphs [Jonathan Humphreys] as well. We had a good hit out against Northampton the other day. That was a good benchmark for us in the way we want our season to go.
“It is quite a youthful squad so there is going to be a lot of competition for places, which should bring the best out of people.
“Dave is a good coach and he has a lot of knowledge and calibre from Super Rrugby. all the boys have taken to him and he has been a great influence already.
“My aim for the season is to play as much as I can. There are a lot of young guys and guys like Calum Gibbins coming across. There is a lot of competition. Wilson, Adam Ashe, there is some good competition.”