Position – Back row
Age – 19 (born 16/7/98)
Height – 6’2″ (1.86m)
Weight – 15st 6lbs (98kg)
Minutes played for Glasgow:
2016/17 – 254 (3 starts)
Matt Fagerson has been setting records ever since he joined up with the Warriors in July 2016 – just weeks after leaving school. He became the youngest player ever to appear for Glasgow in a European match when he came off the bench against Leicester at Scotstoun (nearly a full year younger than John Barclay). He became the club’s youngest try scorer in the home fixture against Zebre (a few weeks earlier than Scott Cummings had managed). He almost certainly was also the youngest Warrior ever to pick up a yellow card after a stramash with his opposite number during the away game against Zebre earlier in the season!
As of today (Sunday 1st October) Zander’s wee brother will be a full-time member of the Glasgow squad. Even before this though he was essentially an Academy player in name only though, having been selected for 7 of Glasgow’s previous 8 games. This wasn’t a case of just being there for the experience or padding out the 23 either. During 2016/17 Matt saw a lot of ball in his appearances for Glasgow, averaging 14.8 carries per 80 minutes. So what are the key attributes he brings to the table?
Balancing the back row
In many ways the back row is all about combinations. Simply picking the best 3 individuals available may not be the right approach if their skillsets overlap too much or fail to complement each other. Glasgow have been fortunate enough to have a couple of very fine exponents of the art of balancing a back row. It’s not simply that Kelly Brown and Ryan Wilson have had the ability to play across all 3 back row positions. More than that they have demonstrated time and time again the capability to adapt their own game to complement their back row colleagues.
The middle Fagerson (yes there’s potentially another one still to come with younger sibling Nathanael already having featured for Scotland u16) has this same broad skillset that will allow him to be flexible in the role he plays – no matter the number on his back.
It starts with that essential component for any successful back rower – an exceptionally high work rate. In defence he’s demonstrated some Favaro-esque attitude in getting up off the line to shut down the opposition playmakers. As he adds more muscle the hits will get harder, allowing him to really dominate opponents behind the gain line and set the platform for the rest of his pack to follow up on. Callum Giibbins looks like he will set a fine example for Matt to follow in this respect.
Matt is also talented when it comes to pilfering the ball. With the laws the way they currently are only the very quickest of jackals (who are also strong enough to survive the clear out) will prosper. Fagerson has the speed and game awareness to get into good positions and the power and technique to complete the job when he gets there.
In attack he punches above his weight with his carrying game. He seems to relish the physical confrontations involved in challenging the defensive line. One of the keys to his success is speed into contact and he appears to be aiming at a point a little bit beyond the collision, rather than at the defender himself. This allows Matt to propel himself through the challenge to get over the gain line or even make a clean break.
The top level of age grade rugby has given Matt the chance to demonstrate some of the the skills noted above – ones that he will hope to transfer to the pro game (and beyond). He started all 7 of the games he played last season for Scotland u20s – for whom he will still be eligible for the 2018 Six Nations and World Rugby Championship. He was one of the stars of the young Scots’ performance in Georgia where they managed their best ever finish in the tournament.
The style of play he showed for the young Scots was predicated on heavy involvement on both sides of the ball across all the games. There were double digit returns for both carries (13) and tackles (10) which requires elite fitness levels and an attitude to match. This was high quality work too, consistently getting over the gainline while averaging 2.7m per carry and maintaining a 91% success rate in defence.
That success with ball in hand saw him beating a defender for every 6 carries he made – a different level of match clearly but that is similar to the numbers Josh Strauss put up for Glasgow during 2016/17. The modern back row needs to be able to distribute the ball and no-one in the Scottish pack made more passes (20) than Matt during the Championships. There were a couple of lovely examples of his handling ability during the Ireland game:
So a hard tackling, jackalling, heavy-duty carrying, linking back rower with an exceptional work rate. What’s not to like? Matt Fagerson will be a regular in Dave Rennie’s matchday squads this season and international recognition is surely only a matter of when not if.