Finn Russell fresh and back at top of his game

Finn Russell still wears protection on his head but showed on Saturday that he is firing on all cylinders with a scintillating show at stand-off
Finn Russell still wears protection on his head but showed on Saturday that he is firing on all cylinders with a scintillating show at stand-off
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Finn Russell reflected on what he considered to be one of his best performances for Scotland and vowed that another failure to close out a game won’t sit too heavily on the squad’s shoulders.

The stand-off was back to his swashbuckling best at BT Murrayfield on Saturday and so nearly helped guide the Scots to a famous win over Australia before a late Wallaby try consigned them to a frustrating 23-22 defeat.

Russell admitted that the players were “gutted” by the final outcome but enthused by their ability to dominate quality opposition for long periods, outscore them three tries to two, and confident they can now finish the series strongly in the games against Argentina on Saturday evening and Georgia the following week.

“For me personally and for the team it was one of the best performances we’ve had,” said Russell, who won his 20th cap in the Test.

“It’s disappointing as it was there to win, which is frustrating. We were ahead for almost the whole game.

“Up until the final whistle I was still confident [after 
Australia’s winning try in the 75th minute] that we could get a penalty or a drop goal to win it.”

Russell suffered a serious head injury in the last game of last season – Glasgow’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final at Connacht – and has been eased back into action over the past couple of months but showed on Saturday that he is back firing on all cyclinders and playing with the verve and fearlessness which has provided such a breath of fresh air to the Scotland team.

In some ways, Russell feels the time he spent resting to allow his head to heal, missing the tour to Japan in the summer, has led to him being in even better shape.

“I was injured at the end of last season, but since then I’ve been fine. I played for Ayr, then Glasgow, now Scotland. I’ve not had any issues with my head at all, which is good.

“I got time off over summer to rehab any niggles I had. Physically, I feel as good as I can be.

“I had quite a few weeks off over the summer. Although it was frustrating not being able to go to Japan I tried to look at the positives of getting some time off after a long couple of years. It wasn’t the worst thing, mentally and physically. I’m now as good as I could be.”

Russell got the ball rolling on Saturday when his delicious chip deceived the Aussie defence and bounced beautifully into centre Huw Jones’ arms for the opening score. The stand-off said that they had spotted in analysis that Wallabies full-back Israel Folau sat deep when they rushed defence and the play has worked well in training.

“You know the opposition inside out before you play them,” said Russell. “In modern rugby it is so important and every team does it.”

Russell said he has been highly impressed by Jones, who went on to add another try and took the man-of-the match award in what was a dream first start and Murrayfield debut.

“He’s a great guy and a brilliant rugby player. That was my first time playing with him. He was over in Japan when I was injured. But training with him the last couple of weeks has been good and he’s great to have outside you. He knows the game, runs good lines. We have a lot of good centres but I thought he was outstanding on the weekend.”

The impact of Jones has added yet another option to a midfield stacked with talent and Russell said he doesn’t mind having a plethora of potential parings outside him.

“I like playing with them all,” said the 24-year-old. “Obviously I play with Alex [Dunbar], Peter [Horne] and Mark [Bennett] at Glasgow and then the likes of Duncan Taylor, who is injured just now. There are different options there and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. For me it’s trying to understand all the players as well as possible and trying to work out how they play, what kind of passes they’re looking for and looking to gel with them as well as possible.”

The attention now switches to Argentina, who Russell enjoyed a 41-31 over two years ago when his Test career was just getting started.

The playmaker said his analysis of the opposition, who lost 24-20 to Wales at the weekend, now begins in earnest but he is not one to overload himself with information and obsess too much about the game. When in training camp and playing he is serious about his rugby but he finds switching off easy, which may partly explain the free spiritedness and joie de vivre he seems to bring to the game.

“I haven’t watched the game as I had yesterday off and I didn’t watch any rugby. I will get that on my laptop and watch that tonight and analyse them. I’ve not really watched too much of them. If I watch rugby at the weekend I’ll probably watch my brothers or my mates. I wouldn’t say I’m a rugby geek. If you watch too much rugby you can almost get fed up with it.”