At a time of year when most of us are counting the calories and trying to rid our waistlines of the remainder of the plum duff, Glasgow tighthead Zander Fagerson will be filling his face even if pudding takes second place behind those high-protein shakes.
“I used to be a number eight up until the under 16s,” says the man who was known for his kicking prowess in front of posts. “Then they said if you want to go professional, if you want to go down that line of work, you’re not tall enough or fast enough. So I bit the bullet and started eating!”
For a man whose first love was mountain biking, sadly a clause in his contract prevents the former youth champion from doing anything daft, the broad-chested prop now looks like he’d struggle to climb anything much more demanding than the curb of the pavement these days.
That the 18-stone Fagerson is the coming man is not in doubt. The question is how quickly he will get there and this afternoon will give us a pretty accurate indication. The Scot was preferred to Sila Puafisi in the second leg of the 1872 Cup, where he helped stabilise the Glasgow scrum, and he is selected ahead of the Tongan for today’s clash with Racing’92 in Paris, the game held over after the Paris massacres in November.
Gregor Townsend will be wary of pushing his young charge too far, too fast and just how the tighthead copes this afternoon will be crucial, not only to Glasgow but also Fagerson’s own immediate prospects.
In Eddy Ben Arous he is up against a hugely capable French international loosehead prop who is still just 25 years old himself. As a teenager (Fagerson doesn’t turn 20 until the 19th of this month) the Glasgow man has the rugby equivalent of a sign stuck to his back saying ‘kick me now’. French forwards revere the bump and grind like no others and Fagerson will be targeted remorselessly at every set scrum.
If he can emerge from his today’s 80-minute encounter with his stock even modestly higher, anything is possible come the Six Nations. If he gets his backside handed him by Ben Arous, Szarsewski and Co, Fagerson will be left to bake a little longer in the oven before he is deemed ready. Whatever happens today he appears unfazed by the size of the task facing him, which means he is either a confident young man or a consummate actor.
“Racing are a very set-piece dominant team, so we’re working on that and the mauls,” says Fagerson. “It’s a work in progress, but it’s coming together. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, you prepare in the same way. You do your thing, you get in good positions and you go forward. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got 100 caps for England or Wales or not been capped at all. Don’t really focus on them at all, just do your own thing.
“There’s a lot of ifs and whatnots but if we all do our jobs and play as a team, and play the Glasgow Warriors way and do our system, I think definitely we can create a bit of history. It’s a massive game. To beat the team that’s leading the pool, one of the best teams in Europe, would be a massive achievement.”
Fagerson has limited experience of what to expect. He was 24th man when Glasgow traveled to Toulouse last season and came away with some credit but no points after a disappointing afternoon. The big difference, he says, is the French fans who he dubs “mental”.
Glasgow are in danger of losing three games on the bounce but their young prop takes some comfort from the team’s performances in the twin derbies, especially the second which they dominated but failed to close out. He can’t put his finger on why the Warriors are struggling to hit their straps this season but then Townsend’s team has a lot of moving parts and just one failure amongst them all can ruin a lot of hard work.
“As a team we need an 80-minute performance and to finish off our opportunities,” says the young Scot. “If we do an 80-minute performance that we’re proud of, and what we’re capable of, I think we can definitely get the win.”