Al Dickinson relishing clash with young Zander Fagerson

When Alasdair Dickinson was getting his first taste of a festive inter-city derby 13 years ago, his likely opposite number this Boxing Day would have been enjoying his haul from Santa.

Edinburgh's Alasdair Dickinson in training ahead of the 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow Warriors. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

Zander Fagerson was only seven when apprentice loosehead Dickinson came off the bench at Hughenden in December 2003 for his first senior match against Glasgow.

That was in the days before the occasion had been rebranded as the revived 1872 Cup and when future Warriors stalwarts like Alastair Kellock and Dougie Hall were alongside Dickinson in Edinburgh colours.

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The 33-year-old is now recovered from the long-term leg injury which kept him out from the summer tour to Japan through an autumn Test series when tighthead Fagerson, who turns 21 next month, added to his burgeoning reputation and took his cap tally to four with appearances in all three games.

Zander Fagerson will be up against Al Dickinson on Monday. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

Dickinson is now relishing going head to head with the youngster as Scotland’s two pro teams clash at the national stadium.

“I get on really well with him, he’s a good kid, working hard and playing some outstanding stuff,” said Dickinson. “He’s been blooded internationally as well. He’s playing really well and has definitely been a standout for Glasgow. He’ll be champing at the bit this week and it’ll be a tough battle.”

Fagerson has kicked on from the November Tests and played his part in Glasgow’s fabulous European Champions Cup double over Racing 92 and Dickinson has taken notice.

“I was impressed with the whole squad really. The props take the credit when it’s due and the flak when that’s due, but the guys working around him were working hard, and you could tell what a good unit they have.

Zander Fagerson will be up against Al Dickinson on Monday. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

“Knowing Zander, Gordy [Reid] and Fraz [Fraser Brown] with Scotland, we know how passionate their front row guys are about scrummaging. They’ve got an outstanding scrummage, the boys coming off the bench or whoever starts.

“They’ve got a pretty good record of not getting penalised and that speaks for itself in where they are the league and in Europe. Last week they were winning pens against Racing. That shows how good they are.”

Dickinson and Fagerson both attended the High School of Dundee, though the older man joked: “He scooted off to Strathallan, Dundee wasn’t posh enough for him!

“The same school but a lot of years apart. I get on great with him. He’s got a great ethic and he wants to learn. Every time he’s at Scotland he asks questions and he loves it, young keen, and mad for it, and it’s a great thing for Scotland to have that level of competition.

“He’s just 20, we’ve got WP Nel who is 30 and it’s great to have that, they’ll both push each other.”

Nel continues to recover from a neck injury and Dickinson agrees that the loss of the first-choice Edinburgh and Scotland No 3, added to improvement in the Warriors pack, means this year is likely to be a more even fight up front than last year, when the capital side dominated the forwards battle and won both games to retain the trophy.

“They’ll be coming after us, that’s the way it is,” said the 58-times capped loosehead. “They’ve improved loads over the last couple of years, especially front five. The guys playing at the minute are flying high and full of confidence and that’s something we have to take away.

“We know how hard it’ll be, they’ve got a couple in the boiler room in Swinno [Tim 
Swinson] and Jonny [Gray] who are on a fire as well. We’ve got Ben Toolis who has been outstanding this season, Gilco [Grant Gilchrist] and Big Fraz [McKenzie] as well. It’ll be a tough battle up front.

“[Not having] WP is a big blow, he’s shown his class last couple of seasons. It’s good to have big Bergy [Simon Berghan] back, he’s been out with a toe injury, he’s another prospect coming through, he’s still pretty young.

“WP missing is a massive blow but getting himself right is a big thing, it’ll add a couple of years to his career. We deal with it, it’s pro sport and you just have to crack on and deal with injuries

“I’ve been there; he’s actually flying at the minute and the rest will probably have done him good, but he’s a massive loss.”

After the disappointment of missing those Tests, the chance to lay down a marker for the fast-approaching Six Nations is an obvious goal, though Dickinson plays down the old cliche that these games are reminiscent of the old Scotland trial games. “When you get older you get slightly wiser, so they tell me anyway,” said Dickinson with a wry smile.

“If you put that much pressure on yourself, by telling yourself it’s a Scotland trial, then that’s when you end up underperforming.

“Put that to the back of your mind, as best you can, and think, ‘I’ve just got to concentrate on my role, my job for Edinburgh’. You can’t select yourself for Scotland, so as long as you do your job and do it well, that’s the kind of message you want to get across, and you’ll get selected if you get selected.

“Trying to get that message across to the younger guys is important. Do your job and if you do it better than the other guy, of course you’ll be in with a shout.

“There’s always a bit of a special atmosphere when it’s Edinburgh-Glasgow. It always adds to the occasion. But it’s still just another league game and a home one for us. We really need to start stepping up the league.”

With Edinburgh struggling in the Pro12 this term and down in tenth, it is the points on offer that matter more than any bragging rights. “We have to take confidence from our last couple of games.

“The way we came back at home [against Stade Francais] was very good, and then the same again at the weekend. We’ve just struggled to put an 80-minute performance together which is our biggest Achilles heel at the moment. It’s something we’re working on, but we’ve done a lot of good things as well, and we just have to keep progressing.

“Mentally I feel fresh. I’m still a bit rusty as it was seven months since I played until the first game against Stade.

“Every week l keep getting better and all I want to do is get out there and get as much rugby as I can.

“It’s taken a little time to get back into the groove, but it’s a work in progress. I’ll keep training as hard as I can.”

Of course, there is no back-to-back element to this season’s 1872 Cup with the return at Scotstoun not coming until the last weekend of the regular season, though that is not something that Dickinson has given too much thought.

“Not really, I only look at the next game,” he said. “It’s just one of these things they’re mixed up this year and that could be a good thing. I think everyone on both teams will be looking forward to the game.

“Everyone knows each other pretty well now, so it adds some spice. We have to improve a lot, we know as