ZANDER FAGERSON says he would prefer to tour South America with the Scotland team this summer, rather than be given an extended break ahead of the long build-up to the 2023 World Cup commencing at the start of next season.
There has been a fair bit of speculation about national team head coach Gregor Townsend resting the eight players who toured with the Lions last summer, but Fagerson – who was among that number alongside Rory Sutherland, Hamish Watson, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg – thinks taking on a non-cap warm-up match against Chile followed by three full Tests against Argentina with an understrength team would be a mistake.
If anyone is left at home, it seems more likely to be those Lions who play their club rugby outside Scotland – Sutherland, Russell, Harris, van der Merwe and Hogg – as they tend not to have their game time managed as conscientiously as their home-based counterparts.
“Going to Argentina, it will be tough opposition in a hostile country,” reasoned Fagerson. “Argentina in Argentina is a different beast so I think we will be going as strong as possible. We’ll see what happens when the squad is named after next weekend’s [URC] quarter-finals.”
“Nobody has had communication [from the coaching team] about the tour yet but I love to play for Scotland any time of year so I would love to go,” he added. “Argentina pride themselves on their forward play and in the year before the World Cup it is a great challenge for us. It will be a great battle over there.”
Meanwhile, Richie Gray, the veteran second-row who hasn’t played for Scotland since turning down an invitation to be part of the 2021 Autumn series, says he has not closed the door on the possibility of an international return this summer.
“I am not quite sure yet,” explained the 32-year-old Glasgow Warrior, when asked about the prospect of adding to the 67 caps he already has to his name. “I have never ruled myself out [in the past]. It was more discussions over timing. So, there are conversations to be had with the management and we’ll take it from there, but that is post quarter-final.
“It is something I would need to have a good sit down and talk about,” he added.
Both Fagerson and Gray were keen to stress that the more pressing concern is Glasgow’s United Rugby Championship play-off clash against Leinster which is looming over the horizon next Saturday.
Given that the Irishmen have won the last four titles and finished this regular season at the summit of the URC table, and given that they are looking to win back-to-back European Champions Cup titles when they take on La Rochelle in this year’s final at the weekend, Warriors will travel to Dublin as big underdogs.
However, Fagerson insisted that their team believe they can cause an upset, despite a wretched recent run of results which has seen them lose four away matches on the bounce, including last weekend’s 1872 Cup reversal against Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
“It is knock out rugby, isn’t it? It does not matter what happens in the season,” reasoned Fagerson. “We have beaten them over there before, but everything has to click and it has to be an 80 minute performance.
“It is about who is the better team on the day. We are going over there to win and not make up the numbers. We have had a good training week and we are excited for next week.
“We don’t turn into a bad team overnight. We are still playing in the right areas and playing good rugby but need to capitalise on that at key moments to come away with points. It has been a tough review and we had a few conversations and will be the better for it.”
Meanwhile, Gray doubts that the fact they are playing such a big game will impact on their readiness for next weekend’s match, but says that doesn’t rule out a Glasgow win..
“I don’t think this Leinster team has any weaknesses,” he said. “They have a first fifteen, a second fifteen and a third fifteen they can put out with no significant drop-off in quality. But I firmly believe if we get it right – and we don’t have a 10 or 20-minute period when we fall-off the pace – then we have a chance of beating them.”
Having started his professional career with Glasgow, Gray was away playing in England and France during the most successful period in his home-town club’s history, when Warriors were PRO12 champions in 2015, finalists two more times and reached the semi-finals four times between 2012 and 2020. He believes that missing out on those glory days has given him extra motivation ahead of next Saturday’s do-or-die tussle.
“Those were great years and a period of a lot of success for Glasgow,” he said. “Watching from afar I was hugely proud and wanted to be a part of that. It is a huge driver for me and for everyone in the club to continue that success and win for Glasgow
“After losing at weekend against Edinburgh, all the players were absolutely gutted – absolutely flattened – so it is about picking the energy up and trying to get something out of this season.
“If we look at it on the whole, from September to March we were sitting in the top four, sometimes top two. This last run of games has been disappointing, but we can’t forget all the good work we did at the start of the season. To get a trophy out of this would mean a lot to me.”
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