As 20th birthday presents go, a first call-up to the Scotland Six Nations squad ain’t bad.
That’s what Glasgow tighthead prop Zander Fagerson was celebrating yesterday as he and 23-year-old Edinburgh loosehead Rory Sutherland were the only uncapped players to be named in head coach Vern Cotter’s 35-man pool for the tournament which begins two weeks on Saturday with the Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield.
In the case of Fagerson it is the latest string to the young Dundonian renaissance man’s bow, in addition to his exploits as a teenage mountain bike champion and former singer with the National Boys Choir.
Breaking into the professional ranks is always a culture shock for a young player but tighthead is arguably the most unforgiving position of all and, while taking some knocks along the way, Fagerson, pictured right, has increasingly proven himself up to the task. His introduction to professional rugby was a baptism of fire as he was thrown on in Treviso in October 2014 when Glasgow had been reduced to 13 men. The qualified lifeguard swam rather than sank and has gone on to play 22 times for the Warriors.
Sutherland has featured 36 times for Edinburgh, starting the last five games and has already had experience of the Scotland squad when he was called up as late injury cover ahead of the World Cup quarter-final against Australia. He hails from Hawick but owes an important stage of his development to arch-rivals Gala where he spent time being mentored by former Scotland prop George Graham following a spell at Biggar.
Sutherland has represented his country at age-grade and Club XV level, with his sights now set on earning a first full cap.
“Rory impressed us last year and was part of the group before the Australia game,” said Cotter yesterday. “He’s coming through, we’d like to work with him and we feel he’s got the qualities to become an international player.
“As for Zander, it’s tough being a 20-year-old tighthead in this game and I think he has done exceptionally. His game against Northampton [on Sunday] proved he’s got that competitive desire to do well. Both those players will get some exposure at some point I would think.”
Another youngster who can consider himself unlucky to just miss out on the squad is 22-year-old Glasgow scrum-half Ali Price, who had been tipped for a call following recent impressive displays.
Cotter retains hopes that Henry Pyrgos can return midway through the tournament and has gone with just skipper Greig Laidlaw and Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne as his nines for the time being.
But the coach said of Price: “He’s impressed us. We’re not sure how long it will be before Henry Pyrgos can take the field and, if he can’t, we are certainly looking closely and he could well be involved at some stage.”
With 16 players picked, Glasgow Warriors again provide the bulk of the squad and Cotter insisted he was not overly concerned by the Guinness Pro12 champions’ recent struggles to replicate the form which took them to glory last season. He said: “It’s a long season and I think Glasgow are still capable of winning the competition, defending the Pro12. Some players have perhaps found it hard coming out of the World Cup and we’ll get an idea of how they are when we come together next week.
“What’s in front of them will excite them. They’ve been selected for their national team and especially with a big game first up, the Calcutta Cup, the focus will quickly switch to that.”
That England game fills the horizon at present but, asked if Scotland could have genuine aspirations of aiming to win the championship for the first time in 17 years, Cotter said: “I think it’s important to believe that we can.
“The World Cup is behind us now and we want to move forward. The desire is to improve, kick on and take the next step.”