IT WAS hot in Edinburgh today, at least by Scottish standards. Which is to say, not half as hot as it gets in Japan, and not nearly as humid either.
So running around in the sunshine at Riccarton will only do so much for the Scotland squad as they prepare for the conditions they are likely to encounter at the Rugby World Cup. To really be ready for the strength-sapping sweaty soup in which they may well find themselves, Gregor Townsend’s players have had to take more drastic measures, as Matt Fagerson explained.
“We’re doing heat-chamber stuff, so it feels like we’re in Japan already,” the Glasgow Warriors forward said at Oriam, where the squad are currently in residence. “You’re submerged in a pool that’s about 45 degrees. It’s like going into a hot bath – a HOT bath.
“The air around is about 40 degrees as well. It’s 10 times worse than a sauna. Just horrible. It’s here, in the hydrotherapy area. We spend 20 minutes in there, but the boys look like they’re going to pass out after 15. It is quite a mental test as well as physical.
“You can’t have a cold shower after because it is about getting your body to adapt to the heat. You won’t be able to have a cold shower at half-time.”
The received wisdom is that men with smaller, more wiry physiques thrive best in extreme heat and humidity, while the bigger and bulkier you are, the more problems you are likely to have. At 6ft 1in and around 16 and a half stone, Fagerson is one of those who might need more time to adapt, so he, along with elder brother Zander and Warriors team-mate Jonny Gray, is doing all he can to get accustomed to the discomfort now.
“The bigger guys have been fine, Zander’s been OK,” he insisted before qualifying the latter statement. “He’s been in a terrible way . . . .
“It started the beginning of the week, done two, and did another one today. I went to the sauna with Jonny yesterday. Twenty minutes? No chance. I did 15, bailed out and then came back in for another 10. We’ll feel the benefit of it.”
There has been a bit of a Japanese them in training this week, as the players have also paid a visit to the Judo Scotland’s national training centre at Ratho. The close-quarters grappling involved in the martial art has clear links to rugby, but the day was also a chance for the players to enjoy themselves by trying something different.
“It was pretty cool,” Fagerson explained. “It was very educational – the guys were showing us how to get out of different locks and holds. A bit of fun as well – we had a Royal Rumble at the end and I was knocked out first. I actually gave it to Jamie Bhatti.
“Grant Stewart went on to dominate everyone: he was a dark horse. Jamie Ritchie was a judo champion when he was younger. I think Maggie [Magnus Bradbury] did as well; he was pretty good at it.”
The Young One
Still a couple of weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Fagerson has matured rapidly as a player since making his debut against the USA in Houston last summer. A makeshift touring side started brightly before going down 30-29, and a spilled ball by the No 8 was emblematic of a second half in which just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Several players left the tour at that point while the rest went on for the final match against Argentina, and Fagerson was one of those whose services were not required for what turned out to be a resounding victory against the Pumas.
“It wasn’t an ideal debut, but I really enjoyed the tour and was gutted to leave early,” he recalled. “But it was a great experience and I came back into pre-season and had a pretty bad hamstring injury, so it was a slow start.
“But I got my fitness back and was playing a good brand of rugby, got in favour with Dave [Rennie, Glasgow’s head coach] so I ended up playing towards the tail end of the season and just got round to really start enjoying it, because the Six Nations and the Autumn Tests didn’t go so well. I’d started to really enjoy my rugby, coming to training and being with the guys. It’s a different feeling coming into camp now; it was a different feeling in the Six Nations when you were just holding pads or whatever. It’s been awesome coming back into the scene again.
“At the beginning of the season there was talk that my over-the-ball stuff wasn’t that consistent. I didn’t get over it enough. But in the last few games of the season I tried to get stuck into the rucks and it has been a lot better. I have to keep cracking on with that and trying to improve.
“I really enjoyed my rugby at the tail end of the season. I felt I was bringing a lot of energy and I was just loving going out there and playing. It’s not ideal to finish the way we did but there’s plenty more to come from the group. I was loving it, so I’m happy.”
Happy, too, to help out new father Zander with some childcare duties – the operative word being some. “Being an uncle is the best job, because you don’t deal with any of the negatives. You get cuddles, and when they start crying you hand them back.”