HE didn’t get as much game time as he would have liked during this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, but the overall experience energised Zander Fagerson and gave the tight-head prop confidence that the upward trajectory his career has been on during the last two years can continue.
Now fully rested and refreshed after that expedition, the 25-year-old is intent on translating the lessons learned with the Lions into the Scotland camp during their four-match Autumn Test series, with Tonga the first challenge looming over the horizon this coming Saturday.
“I really enjoyed my experience with the Lions and learned a lot,” he said. “I think what it gave me was it made me really excited to get back here, get involved with Scotland and Glasgow, knowing how much potential we have – and what we might achieve.
“Sometimes you put other countries on a pedestal and think they’re doing something different. Well, I think the group I’m involved with at Glasgow and with Scotland, there are players in there who could mix it up with the very best.
“So, I came back really excited about some of the players we’ve got here and what we can achieve with belief. It’s an exciting time to be part of Scottish rugby.”
Fagerson added that his generally positive outlook at the moment can be tracked back to the pain of Scotland’s early exit from the 2019 World Cup in Japan, because that set-back prompted a reassessment of his motivations and helped him develop a healthier perspective.
“I had put so much pressure on myself to play well on the world stage that I took away the fundamental thing of enjoying rugby – I wasn’t enjoying it,” he explained.
“I came back from injury and wanted to be back at my best when I hadn’t had enough time to get to that place, so it was about going back to the basics of: ‘Why did I start playing rugby?’
“[The answer is] because I enjoy it, so I got back to that. I worked with a few people on the psychology side of things, and I feel like I am playing some good rugby now.
“It just gave me a bit more clarity. I used to think that if I didn’t play well I had let my family down, I had let my teammates down and stuff like that, so it’s about not putting so much pressure on myself.
“As a younger player, I might have said I had to get five carries, five tackles and they all had to be dominant, and I had to get four scrum penalties or whatever. If I didn’t get that I’d be looking at it and thinking: ‘I’m not hitting my targets, I’ve not done what I set out to do’.
“When all that pressure is taken off you, you can just go out and enjoy yourself. You’re not always going to win, but the way I used to look at games, if I lost I would think I was the worst player in the world. It was peaks and troughs but now it’s a lot more on an even keel.
“It’s not a wasted game so long as you learn from it. That has definitely been a massive growth for me. I’m not the finished article and I’ve got a lot of things to work on, but I’m enjoying my rugby and I’m in a good spot.
“Growing up and maturing a bit changed that as well,” he added. “Being a dad now and having my family, I’m still a rugby player and it is really important, but it is not going to define who I am. At the end of the day, if it all stops, I’m still a human being, still Zander Fagerson, a dad, a parent, a brother, a son. That gave me a lot of prospective and made me enjoy my rugby more.”
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Having been given an extended break following the Lions tour, Fagerson returned to action on Friday night when he played the first 54 of Glasgow Warriors’ defeat to Leinster which he hopes will be enough to get him up to speed for the challenge of tackling Tonga on Saturday in the first of Scotland’s four Autumn Tests.
“They’re big men so it’s going to be a battle up front for the forwards, in the set-piece and around the park,” he said. “They’ve got Ben Tameifuna and a few looseheads who play in France as well, so we’ll see what the team-sheet is and I’ll do my homework. It’s going to be a challenge and if you’re not on the money they’re going to punish you.
“It’s definitely up my street. With all the islander teams, you know they’re going to bring very direct running routes. They all have big players who, if you run straight at them, they’re going to smoke you.
“We recently had Walter Fifita come to Glasgow, a really good guy – but he’s a mutant! He was saying he hoped to see me next week. And they’re all that size. He’s a winger and he’s bigger than me.”
“Personally, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing,” Fagerson added. “I got picked by the Lions on what I did for Scotland, so it gave me confidence to believe that what I’m doing isn’t bad.
“I’m trying to be better every day and, with the environment we have here, I can definitely do that, so I’m excited for the future.”