Glasgow Warriors and Scotland prop Zander Fagerson explains how he learned to love rugby again

Zander Fagerson returned home from the Lions tour with a growing realisation that he and his Scotland team-mates are more than capable of mixing it with the best.

Zander Fagerson in action for the British & Irish Lions against the Stormers in Cape Town. He scored a try in the 49-3 win. Picture: Steve Haag/PA

The prop was one of eight Scots picked for the summer trip to South Africa, the highest representation from this country for 32 years.

It was reflective of the strides made by Scotland in recent years, most notably in last season’s Six Nations when Gregor Townsend’s side beat both England and France away.

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Fagerson detects a growing sense of belief in the squad, although his own personal epiphany came when he stopped making unrealistic demands of himself and learned to enjoy the game again.

Zander Fagerson says he is excited to get back involved with Scotland and Glasgow after his Lions experiences. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

He credits fatherhood for helping him gain a sense of perspective and the aftermath of the disappointing 2019 Rugby World Cup when he started looking more closely at the psychological side of the game.

His experiences in Japan two years ago were tough, with Scotland eliminated at the group stage for only the second time in their history. But it was a turning point, says Fagerson.

“We didn’t give a good account of ourselves, it hit some players pretty hard. I was pretty gutted,” he said. “I had put so much pressure on myself to play well on the world stage that I took away the fundamental thing of enjoying rugby – I wasn’t enjoying it.

“I came back from injury and wanted to be back at my best when I hadn’t had enough time to get to that place, so it was about going back to the basics of ‘why did I start playing rugby?’ Because I enjoy it.

Zander Fagerson training with Scotland at Oriam in preparation for the Tonga match. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“So, I got back to that. I worked with a few people on that side of things, the psychology side of things, and I feel like I am playing some good rugby.

“I’m nowhere near the finished article, but I’m happy, I’m in a good spot and enjoying my rugby, so can’t complain.

“It just gave me a bit more clarity. I used to think that if I didn’t play well I had let my family down, I had let my teammates down and stuff like that. It’s about not putting so much pressure on myself.

“As a younger player I might have said I had to get five carries, five tackles and they all had to be dominant, and I had to get four scrum penalties or whatever. If I didn’t get that I’d be looking at it and thinking I’m not hitting my targets, I've not done what I set out to do.

“Growing up and maturing a bit changed that as well. I used to put so much pressure on myself and rugby was the be all and end all. But being a dad now and having my family, I'm still a rugby player and is really important but it is not going to define who I am.

“At the end of the day if it all stops I’m still a human being, still Zander Fagerson, a dad, a parent, a brother, a son. That gave me a lot of perspective and made me enjoy my rugby more.”

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The change in mindset helped take his performances up a level and his call-up for the Lions was fully merited. Fagerson played four times in South Africa and scored a try in the win over the Stormers. He would have loved to have made the Test team but at 25 there should be other opportunities for the tighthead.

“It was an unbelievable experience, I learned a lot,” he said of the tour.

“I think what it gave me was it made me really excited to get back here, get involved with Scotland and Glasgow, knowing how much potential we have – and what we might achieve.

“Sometimes you put other countries on a pedestal and think they’re doing something different. I think the group I’m involved with at Glasgow and with Scotland, there are players in there who could mix it up with the very best.

“It gave me confidence to believe that what I’m doing isn’t bad. So keep doing the fundamentals. I’m nowhere near the finished article. But I’m trying to be better every day and, with the environment we have here, I can definitely do that.”

Fagerson had his first outing since the Lions tour when he played for Glasgow in the 31-15 defeat by Leinster on Friday night. He is now in camp with Scotland, preparing for Saturday’s game against Tonga, the opening match of an Autumn Nations Series which also includes Tests against Australia, Japan and the now familiar foes South Africa.

He sets great store in the “culture and environment” of the squad, stressing the importance of the younger members being allowed to express themselves and contribute.

“There is a growth mindset in the squad,” he said. “We want to achieve stuff and we definitely have the squad for it.

“We go into every game thinking we can win. We believed we could beat the All Blacks here a couple of years ago – and we should have won.

“So this is a great opportunity to see some new guys come in, new additions to the squad.

“To play against the world champions, to face South Africa again after the Lions tour, then Australia who had some great results in the Rugby Championship, it’s going to see where we’re at. It’s a challenge we’re definitely up for.”

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