Scotland prop Zander Fagerson hails South African pair for helping him hit top form

There isn’t too much that has fallen into place for Scotland in the Six Nations but at least the set scrum has impressed. In the opening round in Dublin, Scotland won two straight arm penalties against an Ireland eight anchored by two British Lions props. And if things were a little less clear cut against England at least there was no capitulation as France’s forwards had done seven days earlier.
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg. Picture: Ross Parker/SNSScotland captain Stuart Hogg. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Scotland’s scrum coach comes from an era when French props learned the dark arts along with their times table. South African Pieter de Villiers boasts 68 French caps and has already earned kudos for Scotland’s scrum performance although some of the credit must go to Zander Fagerson whose current form has seen him become an automatic starter for Scotland.

He is as combative on the field as he is compliant off it. In front of the press at Scotland’s Oriam training base yesterday, the burly prop shook each journalist individually by the hand when a few players might prefer the throat. It turns out Fagerson has not one, but two South Africans to thank for his recent good form. “Petrus [du Plessis, Glasgow’s veteran tighthead] and Pieter [de Villiers] have been massive for me,” says the elder of the Fagerson boys. “Since Petrus came in I’ve just picked his brains about stuff. He’s been a world class tighthead for a long time, one of the best in the prem year in and year out, so having him at Glasgow just to tap his brains and drive our set piece has been awesome.

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“But Pieter has been a breath of fresh air as well coming in. He does lots of endurance and core stuff and that is not just with the front row but the pack as a whole.

“Yeah, it’s massive, having that specialist coach coming in. We have specialist kicking coaches, specialist skills coaches and so to have a scrum coach coming in, to have that key focus throughout training... He follows me around the gym to make sure my posture is good! So, yeah, it’s full on but it’s good.”

In a recent interview coach Gregor Townsend made a great play about learning lessons from the World Cup in Japan, listening to player feedback and making significant changes to the way things were done. If that’s true, they seem to have passed Fagerson by because the big fella is unable to put his finger on any difference whatsoever with the possible exception of a few more smiles about the squad.

“That’s a tough one,” he replies when asked about Townsend’s comments. “I feel like we’ve parked Japan. We didn’t play how we wanted to play, we didn’t give a great account of ourselves and we were pretty gutted afterwards.

“What I personally wanted to do was get back to my club and get back to enjoying my rugby. I left Japan quite gutted, that Japan game was tough. Japan as a country was awesome but it was pretty tough leaving like that.

“I just wanted to get back to Glasgow and back enjoying my rugby.

“I’ve been loving my rugby so far and coming into camp, there’s a lot of young boys and for me, it’s a bit like a 20s reunion. We’ve got Alex Craig [of Gloucester] coming back in, we’ve got Blair [Kinghorn] and Hasto [Adam Hastings]. There’s a lot of young boys and a few are really stepping up.

“We’ve really forgotten about Japan. The Six Nations is a new tournament, it’s a new year so let’s just get on with it. It’s been a really positive camp, I’ve been loving it and everyone’s got a smile on their face and training hard.” The Scots will need to train well next week. Italy may not have won a championship game since Leonardo picked up his first crayon but Scotland are not the only side with a good young ‘un’ sporting the number three shirt.

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At just 23, Italy’s tighthead Giosue Zilocci is one year younger than his Scottish rival and one to watch. Zilocci will likely start in tandem with Andrea Lovotti and hooker Luca Bigi who captains the side.

Scotland will go after Italy’s set scrum, Italy will do exactly the same to Scotland and, if the match is as tight as many expect, that area could prove decisive. “Italy showed in the first two rounds that they 
have a really good scrum,” said Fagerson of next weekend’s opposition.

“They posed Ireland a lot of problems as well as France. We are going into this game, same as every game, with a plan. It’s been going well so far so we won’t change too much, we’ll stick to our process.”