Sibling rivalry is perhaps the most common phrase we use in civilian life to describe how brothers get on, but in rugby it is more usually a case of sibling support. A confrontational, gruellingly physical sport demands a high degree of camaraderie, with the result that family relations tend to be harmonious rather than hostile. Brothers in arms, not brothers at war.
Take the Fagersons. Matt and Zander Fagerson, like George and Peter Horne, will represent Scotland together for the first time tomorrow against the United States here in Texas. Yes, they can remember when a casual game of touch in the garden back home in Kirriemuir quickly turned into a very combative, full-contact game, but they can also look back on how their careers developed, and how they have backed each other every step of the way.
“I’ve watched Matt growing up a lot,” says Zander, at 22 the older by some two and a half years. “He’s developed into a pretty handy player. He’s a fantastic ball-carrier, has really good footwork and has brought really strong defence. He’s an all-round package, an asset to any team, and I’m enjoying playing with him.”
Matt, who turns 20 next month, watched Zander growing up, too, albeit from the perspective of a child who was in awe of what his sibling was achieving at such a young age. “I looked up to him,” the No 8 recalls. “I grew up as the younger brother of the bloke who was making the [national under] 20s squad when he was 17, making his Glasgow debut at 18 and his Scotland debut so young as well, especially for a prop. It was massive for me. I was very proud of him growing up. I’ve not tried to emulate him, but I wanted to follow in the same footsteps.
“He’s got more caps and more experience. I still have a lot to learn – as does he! He’s always treated me as an equal. That hasn’t really changed. We’re not rooming together on this camp, but we have before.”
The two are very different physical types these days, with Matt being slightly taller and more than slightly leaner, while Zander has bulked up considerably in order to deal with the demands of being a tighthead prop. To look at them now, it is pretty clear which one plays in the front row and which in the back, but there was a time when they might have been on a collision course, with Zander also having set out to be a No 8. At first he was loath to make the positional switch, but it is second nature to him now, and he knows there is no going back.
“That’s in the past, and I managed to make a career playing tighthead. I used to hate all the scrum stuff. My old mates at Dundee High know I played one game at prop, got a sore neck and got absolutely smashed and I said ‘I’m never playing prop again’. They were there for my first cap, laughing their heads off. I’m enjoying it and I don’t think I could trim down enough to be a No 8.”
While he has his own duties to perform first and foremost, Zander is in a sense repaying the favour by ensuring he is around to witness his brother’s Test debut, as Matt managed to get to Murrayfield in 2016 to see him win his first cap against England. “I think you had an under-18 game, didn’t you?,” he asked Matt. “Managed to sneak out when you weren’t supposed to. Mum and Dad took him and he came to the game and it was a big step-up and it flew by really quick. Got my debut off the bench.”
Their parents, Gwendolyn and Jonathan, attend all their sons’ home fixtures, while the family will be represented for this game by an uncle who lives in Boston and several cousins who have made the journey from Scotland. However, the game will perhaps mean most to their grandfather, Ladd Fagerson, who now lives in Aberfeldy but is an American who studied at Harvard.
It is by no means a rarity in Scottish rugby for two brothers to be capped: the Fagersons and the Hornes will be the 48th and 49th pair, according to official records, while 21 duos have played in at least one Test together. Having two sets of brothers in the same side is by no means unheard of either: it was only eight years ago that Max and Thom Evans and Sean and Rory Lamont were all on the field together, albeit briefly, in a game against Wales, while the Leslie and Bulloch brothers all started the Calcutta Cup match in 2001.
Three pairs, on the other hand, is pretty rare in any sport, although it is surely only a matter of time before Jonny and Richie Gray, neither of whom is on this tour, join the Fagersons and Hornes in the same side. After that, the question is which family will bring up the half-century – and whether they will break into the senior ranks in time to make it four pairs all together.