ZANDER Fagerson has lined up against Pierre Schoeman in the Glasgow v Edinburgh derby for five years now. And, while the pair have literally gone head to head, with Warriors tighthead Fagerson getting to grips with loosehead Schoeman, metaphorically at least they did not at first see eye to eye.
But now, however, that has changed. The enmity has become amity. The rivalry has given way – off the pitch at least – to revelry. In fact, the pair’s friendship has grown to such an extent that Fagerson now regards his team-mate as a member of the family – albeit a fairly junior one.
“We used to hate each other quite a lot,” Fagerson admits. “It was just probably that Edinburgh-Glasgow rivalry.
“I didn’t really know the guy – how he is on the pitch isn’t how he is off the pitch. He’s still probably a bit full-on sometimes when you’re training with him on the pitch. But he’s not a bad bloke.
“Then of course we became team-mates and we’re good pals. He’s usually my roomy in camp as well. We have a laugh – but after the World Cup he said ‘I can’t speak to you till the New Year’.
“He’s good fun. He’s like a third child for me – he’s very immature! But we have a laugh, a good giggle, and my kids absolutely love him – Uncle Pierre.”
While some players like to cultivate a dislike of the opposition before a derby – perhaps to try to overcome the fact that they are actually playing against good friends in many cases – Fagerson is happy to retain cordial relations with his Edinburgh rivals. “Some boys hate them – I really like them,” he explained. “It’s good fun.
“After this Christmas and New Year period, we’ll hopefully see each other in camp, and we’re all good mates. I hang out with a lot of them in camp.
“Yeah, [there will be] a few little digs here, a few little digs there at the bottom of rucks and stuff, but it’s good fun. I really enjoy these games.
“It doesn’t matter who Edinburgh put out this weekend, they’ve got a good pack. So it’s going to be a good challenge for us and it will be good to see where we’re at.
“I think we’re going to take them head on. They know what’s coming. We pride ourselves as forwards on our game, on our pack, so it’s going to be a good challenge.
“In these derby games form doesn’t really come into it. It’s whoever is best on the day. Sometimes one team doesn’t rock up as well as they should when they’ve maybe been doing stuff really well all season.
“Sometimes either team can maybe get ahead of themselves and the occasion. I think for us it’s about making sure it’s a normal week, it’s another game of rugby, no matter who we’re playing.”
The imminence of the Six Nations – or, more specifically, of head coach Gregor Townsend’s announcement of his training squad for the Championship – often means that the focus in the derbies is on individual duels. But Fagerson is Townsend’s first-choice tighthead by a considerable margin, with the likes of Edinburgh pair Javan Sebastian and WP Nel really only contending against one another to be his back-up. So how does he motivate himself for the derby?
“For me it’s never about an individual battle,” he explains. I’m always just trying to be the best version of me I can be. So I want to get to the top of my game. So for me it’s always about improving every week and making sure I’m on that – and when I’m not, making sure I get pulled up on it.
“So yeah, for me this week nothing changes. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I’m just trying to put the best version of myself out on the pitch and make sure I’m in the best mindset and the best physical condition for that game.”