AFTER two false starts, Matt Fagerson finally managed to make it through a full game of rugby for Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend, with an energetic 80 minutes in a seven-point defeat to France.

The 22-year-old lasted just under half-an-hour before picking up a leg injury in his home international debut against Fiji in November 2018, and just over half-an-hour against Georgia at the start of this Autumn series before succumbing to an ankle injury, so he was understandably delighted to make it third time lucky.

“It’s been quite niggly, picking up injuries here and there, whether it was against Fiji or Georgia, so I was massively pleased to get 80 minutes under my belt against France,” he said. “I tried not to think about it too much and just play on. I was just really pleased to get not only a full game but an injury-free one, too, at Murrayfield. It was a bit of a confidence boost.”

And it was not just case of surviving the contest for Fagerson. He was arguably Scotland’s best performer on a day in which the collective will of the side kept it tight on the scoreboard but few individuals managed to stamp their imprint on the match.

He carried the ball 17 times and beat five defenders, which was more in both categories than any other player. His 62 metres gained was more than everyone apart from Stuart Hogg and man-of-the-match Virimi Vakatawa. Fagerson also made his presence felt on the other side of the ball with a solid nine tackles.

Whether he did enough to retain the No.8 jersey when Scotland complete their Autumn schedule with a 3rd/4th place play-off against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, remains to be seen with that position perhaps the most keenly contested in the squad at the moment. Fagerson is up against Blade Thomson, who started against Wales and Italy in recent weeks, Cornell du Preez and Nick Haining.

“We get on really well – Cornell, Nick, Blade and myself,” Fagerson said. “We’ve all got our own strengths and whoever is playing at the weekend has to bring their own game and express themselves.

“You’ve seen them do that. Cornell was awesome when he came on against Georgia and Wales, Blade played in the next two. We are pushing each other in training. Everyone obviously wants to play at the weekend but when you don’t, guys are really good at getting each other up for the games and helping out throughout the week.”

As heart-warming as all this conviviality is, you really do hope that there is some more niggle when the players get behind closed doors, because we are talking about international rugby not a tea party – but if that is the case then Fagerson is not letting on.

“Everyone is wanting to play and there is that level of competition,” he said. “So, everyone is on their toes whether it’s myself, Blade or Cornell. We’re all pushing each other in training. Everyone wants to get that place and it’s about taking that opportunity when you get it.

“It’s difficult because we are all good friends. There’s no animosity there and that’s an awesome thing to say when it’s a group of international No.8s. But, obviously, you want to play for your country. So, if I can hold that eight jersey for as long as I can then that’s brilliant. I have to play the best I can when I get that chance.”

Fagerson is a genuine all-rounder who is comfortable playing in all three back-row positions. His work-rate, pace, footwork and explosiveness in contact outshines his rivals, but it has been suggested that at just over 6ft tall and weighing 16st, he is a touch on the small side as an international No.8, especially as the two established flankers – Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie – are cut from similar moulds.

Unsurprisingly, Fagerson does not buy into that analysis.

“Teams all around the world tend to play a different style of rugby,” he said. “You’ve got Duane Vermeulen, who is a massive unit and weighs about 120kg, and then you’ve got blokes like Ardie Savea and CJ Stander who aren’t the same size. So, I try to bring the attributes that I have to No.8 and don’t change who I am as a player just because it doesn’t fit the mould.

“I like to think being able to play across the back row and having that versatility is a strength. To be honest I’m happy just to be on the park whether it’s at 6, 7 or 8.”