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Non-stop for Zander on the way to a Scotland cap

Non-stop for Zander on the way to a Scotland cap

Kids nowadays, huh? Stuck in front of the Playstation or Xbox or their heads in their mobiles snapchatting, whatever that is.

Except not if you’re a Fagerson from Westmuir, apparently. The schedule for Zander, his three brothers and sister appears to rule out dead time of any sort. There’s mountain biking and singing and lots of sport, swimming, hockey and especially rugby.

The result of all this frenetic activity is that Zander is in the Scotland squad for the RBS 6 Nations having just turned 20. He’s actually still eligible for the Under-20s, for whom he played last year; not even Richie Gray was fast-tracked into the senior set-up with this speed.

Furthermore, Zander is in at tighthead prop, a position where players of his age are generally laughed off contemptuously and told to go put many more miles, years and scars on the clock before they’re deemed ready to play international rugby.

Zander is obviously behind WP Nel, who has become one of the premier tightheads in the game since he completed his three-year residency and starred in the World Cup. But given Moray Low has seen limited time at Exeter and Jon Welsh is injured, the youngster might be just one injury away from the starting slot.

It’s been a whirlwind 18 months for Zander, who left Strathallan School straight for the Glasgow Warriors, and in keeping with Gregor Townsend’s policy of blooding youngsters was playing senior rugby when he was barely 19. Probably best, he admits, not to stop and try take stock of it all quite yet.

“All I can do is take it week-in and week-out, work hard and try to stay injury free,” he said. “I haven’t even taken time to think about it.

“I got the phone call and an email I was in the squad from (team manager) Gav Scott the night before my birthday and to be honest I looked at it a few times thinking “this can’t be real”.

“I called my mum to say “I think I’m in the squad and she said, `oh, ok.’ It was a pretty special day.”

Fagerson isn’t being spared or protected either, propping down away from home against the powerful Racing 92 team in Paris and also in Northampton in the midst of the European Champions’ Cup.

His scrummaging technique has come under considerable scrutiny and stood up well, while in defence and in the loose he’s a willing and effective ball carrier, remarkably mobile while carrying nearly 20 stones.

“I think in my position the key is you have to prove that you can do it week after week,” he said. “Every game I’m coming up against new guys, new teams and I’m still learning, trying to improve week by week.

“If I get the opportunity to play against England it would fulfil a boyhood dream for me, obviously. But the coaches aren’t going to tell us what the order is yet, I just have to train as hard as I can and take everything in.”

His youth is the subject of some mirth, particularly since he’s giving up 16 years to the Scotland “squadfather”, 102-times capped Sean Lamont, who won his first international honours when Zander was four.

“I remember his hair colour was different then and he had those orange gloves,” said Zander. “But all the guys have been a great help.

“Jonah Lomu was my first hero but spending a season with Euan Murray at Glasgow last year was massive for me. When I was growing up he was the rock of the Scottish scrum and a British Lion, and to have the chance to learn from him was impressive.”

Zander’s father Jonathan played rugby “in every position under the sun” at Rannoch School in Perthshire and as well as his eldest son, two others are already in the Scottish age-group squads. “My youngest brother is bigger than me already,” added Zander.

He first played rugby at the High School of Dundee but it wasn’t until he switched to Strathallan School that things got truly serious, despite his winning a Under-15 national title in Downhill Mountain Biking.

“I went to Strathallan who wanted to push me in both sports,” he recalled. “But there’s a huge risk element in mountain biking and it’s a disadvantage to be big and heavy because the tracks are all rocks and trees and you have to dodge in and out.

“I hit a few trees in my time, but nothing too serious. But then the mountain biking coaches wanted me to get lighter while the rugby wanted me heavier, so I bit the bullet and started eating instead.”

A No 8 when he arrived at Strathallan, director of rugby Andy Henderson and the SRU youth coaching set-up identified switching to tighthead might be a good idea, and he went from 16 stone in his biking days to 20 stones now.

“I could have done biking professionally, but obviously I’m not allowed now, I can only go on my bike out in the flat,” he added. “One of my friends Ruaridh Cunningham has ended up as a junior world champion and does it professionally.”

Also a qualified lifeguard, Zander was in the National Youth Choir finding material for the traditional first cap song on the bus to the stadium will not be a problem if required but it’s really all about rugby for him now.

“It’s been a steep learning curve, and I’ve woken up with a sore neck or two, like you’ve been hit by a bus,” he admitted. “But I like to feel that now because I know that I’ve put in a good shift, and I love everything about playing.”