ZANDER FAGERSON believes that Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend should select the strongest available squad for this summer’s four-match tour of South America and resist the temptation to give his Lions contingent an extended break before the long build-up to the 2023 World Cup clicks into gear at the start of next season. 

The national side are set to play a non-cap warm-up match against Chile on 25th June followed by three Tests against Argentina the 2nd, 9th and 16th July, and Fagerson reckons that taking on that schedule with a squad packed with fringe and emerging players could backfire. 

“Going to Argentina, it will be tough opposition in a hostile country,” he reasoned. “Argentina in Argentina is a different beast so I think we will be going as strong as possible. We’ll see what happens when the squad is named after next weekend’s URC quarter-finals.”  

Fagerson was one of the eight Scots who went to South Africa with the Lions and, despite playing the most physically demanding position on the park, he says he would welcome the opportunity to pit himself against the vaunted Pumas pack in their own backyard. 

“Nobody has had communication [from the coaching team] on the tour yet but I love to play for Scotland any time of year so I would love to go,” he said. “Argentina pride themselves on their forward play and in the year before the World Cup it is a great challenge for us. It will be a great battle over there.” 

Meanwhile, Richie Gray, the veteran second-row who hasn’t played for Scotland since turning down an invitation to be part of the 2021 Autumn series, says he has not closed the door on the possibility of an international return this summer.  

“I am not quite sure yet,” explained the 32-year-old Glasgow Warrior, when asked about the prospect of adding to the 67 caps he already has to his name. “I have never ruled myself out [in the past]. It was more discussions over timing. So, there are conversations to be had with the management and we’ll take it from there, but that is post quarter-final. 

“It is something I would need to have a good sit down and talk about,” he added. 

The more pressing concern for both Fagerson and Gray is that United Rugby Championship play-off clash they each alluded to. It is a daunting challenge away to Leinster, who finished the regular season at the summit of the URC table, and who are looking to win back-to-back European Champions Cup titles tomorrow evening when they take on La Rochelle in this year’s final. 

Both players accept that their team will be big underdogs in Dublin next Saturday but insist that an upset is possible. 

“It is knock out rugby, isn't it? It does not matter what happens in the season,” said Fagerson. “We have beaten them over there before, but everything has to click and it has to be an 80 minute performance.  

“It is about who is the better team on the day. We are going over there to win and not make up the numbers. We have had a good training week and we are excited for next week.” 

Gray added: “I don’t think this Leinster team has any weaknesses. They have a first fifteen, a second fifteen and a third fifteen they can put out with no significant drop-off in quality. But I firmly believe if we get it right – and we don’t have a 10 or 20-minute period when we fall-off the pace – then we have a chance of beating them.” 

Having started his professional career with Glasgow, Gray was away playing in England and France during the most successful period in his home-town club’s history, when Warriors were PRO12 champions in 2015, finalists two more times and reached the semi-finals four times between 2012 and 2020. He believes that missing out on those glory days has given him extra motivation ahead of next Saturday’s do-or-die tussle. 

“Those were great years and a period of a lot of success for Glasgow,” he said. “Watching from afar I was hugely proud and wanted to be a part of that. It is a huge driver for me and for everyone in the club to continue that success and win for Glasgow. 

“After losing at weekend against Edinburgh, all the players were absolutely gutted – absolutely flattened – so it is about picking the energy up and trying to get something out of this season. 

“If we look at it on the whole, from September to March we were sitting in the top four, sometimes top two. This last run of games has been disappointing, but we can't forget all the good work we did at the start of the season. To get a trophy out of this would mean a lot to me.”