ZANDER Fagerson admits that he thought his dream of making this summer’s Lions tour had been killed off by the red-card and four-match suspension he received when his shoulder made contact with opposite number Wyn Jones’ head during Scotland’s Six Nations defeat to Wales back in February – and insists that the form he has shown before and after that incident to earn a place in the squad is a testament to having recaptured his love of the game after a deeply disappoint 2019 World Cup campaign. 

The 25-year-old is up against Irishmen Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter in the battle to become the anchor of the touring team’s scrum in the three-match Test series against the world champion Springboks, and it is slightly ironic that it is the influence of two South Africans that he highlights as having been key to taking his rugby to the next level. 

The tight-head prop has always been a big contributor in the loose, but his scrummaging was inconsistent. Since the World Cup it has developed into a major strength in the game, which Lions head-coach Warren Gatland highlighted yesterday when explaining why he has selected Fagerson and loose-head Rory Sutherland among the six props in this squad. 

“To be able to work with Pieter de Villiers with Scotland and Petrus du Plessis with Glasgow has been important,” Fagerson explained. “They’ve taken it back to fundamentals, back to the basics of scrummaging – the key role of a tighthead. Both being tightheads themselves, two world class tightheads, I have been able to pick their brains and come on leaps and bounds. There is the attention to detail I might not have had with other coaches. 

“Also, I am just enjoying my rugby again,” he added. “I rushed back from injury in 2018 to get fit for the World Cup, put a lot of pressure on myself and did not give a good account of myself. I was not in a good spot rugby-wise or mental-wise. 

“So, the key when I came back and did the World Cup review was to get back to enjoying my rugby. I am privileged that this is my job, and I am lucky enough to work with some great coaches and great players which has brought out the best in me. I have really enjoyed the last 24 months, which has allowed me to grow and develop.” 

“The scrum will be a massive challenge on this tour. It is one of the key parts of trying to win a Test series over in South Africa. The way South Africa took on England up front in the World Cup Final gave them a platform to play the rest of their game so it will be a challenge but one I am definitely looking forward to. I will get stuck in with the guys and make sure we get it right. 

“I'll be honest, I didn't think I had a shout after the red card. It really was an honour and a privilege to be called out today and that just makes it all even more special.”