Ruaridh Jackson tips Finn Russell to shine

Finn Russell faces a huge challenge. Picture: SNS

Finn Russell faces a huge challenge. Picture: SNS

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THE opportunity to make your international debut against the All Blacks in front of an expectant Murrayfield is an experience that no Scotland international should ever forget but, sadly for Ruaridh Jackson, it is one he 
remembers for all the wrong reasons.

Now four years after he was on the wrong end of a 49-3 thrashing inspired by a virtuoso performance at stand-off by Dan Carter, the All Blacks are again back in the capital and, once more, DC will be orchestrating manoeuvres in the black.

But, while Jackson is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery to his left knee, his place as the new Scottish tyro at ten has been usurped by his former Glasgow team-mate Finn Russell, who will exchange thrusts and parries with the great Carter as both playmakers attempt to gain the ascendancy for their respective teams.

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It is a contest Jackson can’t wait to witness but also one in which he believes Russell’s ability to ignore his opposite number and concentrate solely on his game, while making the most of his burgeoning half-back partnership with Greig Laidlaw, will be pivotal.

“It was awesome to make my debut for Scotland against the All Blacks and even more so to be up against Dan Carter and it is the type of experience you can only learn from and I’m sure it will be the same for Finn this afternoon at Murrayfield,” said Jackson. “I think the big thing that Finn will find is that Dan does nothing flash but everything right and, when your opposite number is doing that, it puts a lot of pressure on you and you have to block that out and just play your game. I thought Finn was really relaxed against Argentina and I know from our time together at Glasgow that he is a pretty laid-back guy and I think that will be a plus.

“For me, Finn got all his big decisions correct against the Pumas and he benefitted from having Greig Laidlaw, who was outstanding, alongside him at scrum-half, so that is going to be a big plus that they are starting together again today. But, obviously, Dan is the record points’ scorer in international rugby and if Scotland’s discipline is not good he will keep the scoreboard ticking over and that generates pressure on you when you are the opposing 10. It certainly did for me back in 2010!

“Finn just has to remain focused and play what is in front of him and that is something that he is clearly very good at, but there is no doubt this is a huge challenge for him. For me Dan Carter is still the number one 10 on the planet and I think you’ll find he will be the starting 10 for the All Blacks by the time the Rugby World Cup rolls around next year. He has been out for almost a year if you forget his cameo against the USA and then picking up his injury in the Rugby Championship, so this is his first start in the Black jersey in a good while and he will have a point to prove. But Finn can’t let any of that get into his head. He just has to have belief in himself and what he is doing and if he does I’m sure he will do a good job.”

Jackson was also mightily impressed and heartened by the way Scotland set about Argentina in last week’s initial foray of the viagogo Autumn Series and is hoping that with only Richie McCaw and Ben Smith remaining from the New Zealand starting side that beat England last week at Twickenham, the Scots will once again remain bold in their offensive strategy.

“I was really impressed by the way Scotland played against Argentina, it really looked like Vern Cotter had empowered them to go out there and play what was in front of them and the crowd at Murrayfield really responded to it,” said Jackson. “Obviously playing an All Blacks side, even one which has had so many changes made to it from their last game, is a different proposition altogether but I just hope Scotland have a real go.

“So I think we have to continue playing with belief but it will be crucial we look after the ball and don’t spill possession because the All Blacks are the best in the world at capitalising on turnover and back in 2010 they really rammed that lesson home to us.

“The other thing that I believe will be vital for us is to try to stay tight with them early on. The last thing you need to be is chasing the game against the All Blacks because that is when you make mistakes and, as I found to my cost, that makes for a very long and painful afternoon. But I’m optimistic about our hopes and if we play to our best then you never know how all these changes could affect their rhythm.”

Seven weeks after he had knee surgery, the Wasps stand-off says he is already targeting a return to the fray before the end of the season and aims to reclaim the dark blue jersey in time for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

“I feel like the worst is over for me and my focus is definitely to be back playing before the season is out and, of course, the Rugby World Cup remains the big target,” revealed Jackson.

“Watching Scotland play the way they did against Argentina has only served to make me more determined to get back. I felt like I had made a really good start to the season at Wasps and I know with Finn and Duncy [Weir] in there it will be hard to make it back but life is all about accepting the challenges you are given.”

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