HIS birth certificate says his name is Lindsay Norman Ross, but across the amateur rugby landscape in Scotland he is universally and affectionately known as ‘Shagger’, and he played a crucial role in making Zander Fagerson – who wins his 50th cap against Argentina in this weekend’s summer series decider in Santiago – the player he is today.
In his pomp, Ross made irregular appearances in the back-row for Stewart’s Melville 1st XV in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the Calder and Brewster boys were at their peak. But by the time he crossed swords with the teenage Fagerson he was well into his fifties, had graduated to the front-row union, was still an effervescent character, and was playing for the club’s 2nd XV against Glasgow Hawks at Lochinch (the Scottish Police sports ground in the Southside of Glasgow).
“It is still, to this day, the hardest game I’ve played,” recalls Fagerson. “He bent me over backwards a few times in the scrum and I had no answer. Jimmy Sinclair [Hawks’ veteran coach] gave it to me both barrels afterwards, saying it wasn’t good enough.”
“I was fresh out of school. I didn’t get into the Institute of Sport. I didn’t get into the academy. So, I was at college in Glasgow, playing for Hawks on a Saturday and doing some age-grade stuff during the week,” Fagerson adds.
“And that match probably put a bit of doubt in my mind – probably more for my girlfriend, now wife, who had to watch it – but fortunately I can look back now and say it was a great learning experience.
“You learn to enjoy those experiences because you know you can get better. But hopefully it never happens again.”
“Someone actually put me in touch with him recently and I sent a message saying: ‘Thanks for that hiding, it boded quite well for me’.”
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and by the end of that season Fagerson had earned an academy contract, going on to make his Glasgow Warriors debut in October 2014. But that wasn’t a seamless transition either, with his fourth appearance and first start for the pro side ending in ignominy when he endured such a torrid time against the Scarlets that he had to be replaced before half-time.
“I’ve had a few lulls in my career and I think that Scarlets game especially was one of the lower points,” he acknowledges. “But, like I said before, the tough games are when you learn the most.
“I’d definitely say that experience put the bit between my teeth and drove me to keep pushing on and get better to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Touch wood, I’ve not been taken off before half-time since then, so it is going alright – but never say never.”
Within 18 months, Fagerson had become a full Scotland cap, making his debut off the bench against England during the 2016 Six Nations, just 18 days after his 20th birthday. To now be on the precipice of bringing up his half century at the age of 26 is a remarkable achievement given that he plays a position in which proponents tend not to come into their prime until they are bearing down on their 30th birthday.
“To play once for Scotland was a dream come true and it’s not really sunk in yet that I am now playing my 50th,” he reflects. “It has a lot to do with my family, and all those late nights being driven to and from training and games all over Scotland and the UK by my mum and dad. This is huge milestone in my life and one that I am very proud of.
“But I still think I’ve got a lot of room to grow – I’m not the finished article – and I’m looking forward to working hard over the next few years and I’m sure I can improve,” he adds. “Scrummaging is a thing that I don’t think you ever really master so it’s just about having more consistency going forward and hopefully adding a few tricks to my bag.”
Needless to say, Fagerson is delighted that he will share the occasion with his younger brother, Matt, who is at No 8 tonight and one of the form players in the Scotland team at the moment.
“He has been unbelievable this season, especially in that England win at the start of the Six Nations when he was awesome,” says the proud older sibling. “His injury came at a bad time, but I am happy to see him enjoy his rugby again on this tour. I love playing with him and he spurs me on.”
If Scotland are to clinch the series tonight, they will need both brothers to be at their rumbunctious best.
“It is quite a hostile country,’ he concludes. “Every ground we come to you see the riot fences. They are very passionate people, and they love their rugby, so it is great to have those sorts of crowds at the games in hot weather, because that’s a really good challenge.
“We had a bit of adversity in that first game, we didn’t play the way we wanted to, so bouncing back last week was good, but I think in years gone by we’d have a big performance like that then slip back a little bit the next week so this weekend we are looking to have two big results in a row.
“That would be a good start to the next 18 months [leading up to the 2023 World Cup].”