Fagerson will have his hands full with Caelan Doris on Sunday
Scotland No 8 Matt Fagerson is no Test rookie but he reckons Sunday’s Six Nations clash with Ireland is the biggest match of his career so far.
And the Glasgow star denies that there is any “bad blood” between the local rivals, who know each other well from their United Rugby Championship outings.
Andy Farrell’s unbeaten charges are looking to take the penultimate step towards a Grand Slam at Murrayfield, with Gregor Townsend’s men looking to complete a Triple Crown for the first time since 1990 and keep their title hopes alive.
Ireland’s James Ryan said he’s expecting an “emotive” afternoon in Edinburgh and Fagerson isn’t pouring cold water on the prospect.
“I think it is probably the biggest game I’ll have played for Scotland,” the 24-year-old, who will win his 32nd cap on Sunday, said.
“We aren’t looking too far ahead. You can be thinking about Championships or what the permutations are. We’ve got the world No 1 coming to Murrayfield and that’s all our focus is on. It’s managing what they have to bring and what we bring as well. It is a huge challenge for us and one this squad is really excited to go up against.”
Scottish fans and pundits have reacted strongly to suggestions in the Irish media that their team is prone to getting ahead of itself, but the camp itself is not getting involved in that discourse, in particular former out-half Andy Dunne’s assertion that Ireland will want to put the Scots “back in their box”. While there’s clearly a rivalry between the neighbours, Fagerson says it’s not hostile.
“When you play against teams like Leinster and Munster, who are probably gold standard in Europe at the moment – especially Leinster with the way they play the game and bring players through – it is an awesome challenge for the club team and an international team,” he explained.
“They are always physical. I wouldn’t say there is bad blood or anything, it is just a really enjoyable game to be a part of whether you play at the RDS or they come to Scotstoun. Those are the ones that I enjoy the most.”
Fagerson is fully aware of the threats Ireland bring to the table.
“If you feed them the ball they have massive attacking threats in the back three and No 8,” he said. “If you keep giving them possession and territory it will be a tough day at the office.
“We have to manage that well through our No’s 9 and 10 and our kick-chase is going to be huge as well to trap them in certain areas.
“Being big in defence is the biggest thing we have to do because when they get on the front foot they are pretty hard to stop.
“They have been together for quite a while. “They are pretty consistent in their selections and when you have that you have a team that is very cohesive. They are all on the same page and they all know the way they want to play.
“They’ve got skilful forwards and they have backs who love to put it through the hands and can also carry hard as well. They have a great balance and they are a pretty clinical team as well when they get into the ’22.”
Defence, he says, will be key.
“You can defend really well in the ’22 but if you’re getting a team like Ireland 10 or 11 chances, there are going to capitalise on a few of them,” he added.
“Not letting them in there is probably our first port of call, and when they do come in there we just have to front up and nullify their threats as best we can.”
And Fagerson is especially looking forward to fronting up against his opposite number Caelan Doris.
“He’s a quality player. I played against him in the U-20s when we were in Georgia and he was quality back then as well,” he said.
“He has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years, and has been playing consistently for Leinster and Ireland.
“He has a great skill-set and he carries really hard. He’s a clever player in what he does at the breakdown and in and around the tackle. It’s pretty exciting to go up against him.”