The Lions dream didn’t really germinate in Zander Fagerson until he was a 16-year-old in Spain – of all places – but it could come true in his own backyard.
The Scotland tight-head prop is set to be one of the first Scots to play a British and Irish test on home soil if as expected he’s named in the matchday squad for this Saturday’s historic Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup match against Japan at BT Murrayfield.
20,000 fans are expected to be in Northern Hemisphere rugby’s biggest crowd since the pandemic took hold as the legendary red shirts run out on Scottish soil for the first time. The significance is not lost on the 25-year-old from Kirriemuir.
‘I never really thought about the Lions’
“If selected it will be a dream come true,” he said. “For me growing up, playing for Scotland was the biggest dream of all and I never really thought about the Lions.
“To possibly play at Murrayfield in a Lions jersey would be absolutely incredible.”
Scotland haven’t had a starting test Lion since Tom Smith in 2001. Fagerson was only seven then and never really caught the bug until a Scotland Under-17 tour to Valladolid in Spain when the Lions were winning in Australia in 2013.
“The one that sticks out for me,” he recalled. “We were at an Scotland under-17 tournament/ training camp and we watched all three tests.
“I remember most the last test when Alex Corbisiero and Adam Jones propped and just destroyed the Australian scrum. That effectively won the Test series and is the thing that sticks out in my mind.
“What an incredible tour that was and just watching the boys tear them apart from awesome.”
Japan get their chance again at last
Scrummaging will be a key element of the tour to come in South Africa – “it’s what they pride themselves most on”, agreed Fagerson. But before that there is Japan, starved of competition since their fantastic effort at the 2019 World Cup.
The Brave Blossoms won victories over Ireland and also against Scotland in the epic final group game. Fagerson scored one of Scotland’s three tries that day in Yokohama, but it’s not a particularly fond memory.
“My memories of Japan as a country were absolutely awesome,” he said. “I loved the place and the whole tournament. But our rugby was not where we wanted it to be. It was quite a tough end to our World Cup campaign.
“We know what they are going to bring. They are going to be fast, physical and they are a good scrummage unit themselves. If selected it will be a good challenge and hopefully I will get an opportunity.”
Fathers’ Day blues among the squad in Jersey
Fagerson is enjoying the camp in Jersey – as a former Scottish National choirboy he’s one of the designated squad lead singers – and management went to considerable lengths to lessen the pain of a Fathers’ Day separated from family – in Zander’s case wife Yasmine and his two children aged 3 and 1.
“The backroom staff did a great job and got a compilation of all the kids for their Dads,” he said. “All the mums put the videos onto WhatsApp and did a great, big video so it was a good tear jerker.
“My missus put in a card into my bag and told me not to open it till the day, so it hit home quite hard. I am missing them but time is flying past, that’s a week down so seven more weeks to go.”
Russell and Sarries arrive in camp
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Finn Russell and the Lions’ Saracens’ crew, having completed their domestic seasons, joined up with the squad in Jersey yesterday after passing PCR tests for Covid-19. No just without their Exeter players, the Lions are looking to hit the ground running, says defence coach Steve Tandy.
“It goes back to the style of play we want to play,” said the Scotland assistant. “We’ve looked long and hard at Japan.
“They haven’t played a lot so we’re had to look at historical data. We know that they keep the ball for long periods, make a lot of passes, so that’s what we’ve got to be prepared for.
“But we also have to set out our own principles for the South Africans. It is a bit of a balance.”
“It’s definitely a bigger test than a Barbarians game. Japan are an outstanding Test match team. You see what they did in the World Cup.
“They have some real quality players, so we know how tough this Test is going to be. We only came together last Monday while they’ve been in camp for a while. We know it is going to be an awesome test for us on Saturday.”