FINN Russell spent three years shivering in the cold as a stonemason before deciding he wanted to carve out a career in rugby.
But now the Glasgow stand-off is the man Scotland hope can chisel through the defences of their RBS 6 Nations rivals and maintain their impressive start under Vern Cotter.
The 22-year-old from Stirling was not even a Warriors regular when Scotland were being hammered in last year’s tournament.
But a meteoric rise saw the former Stirling County youngster blast his way into the national team in the space of six months.
His starting slot now looks set in stone after three rock-solid performances during the Autumn Tests - but Russell is just pleased to be out of the nine-to-five graft he used to call a job.
He said: “I was a stonemason for three years after leaving school. On rainy days it could be pretty miserable. It was for a company in Thornhill near Stirling and I worked out of a wee shed.
“It could be tough but I enjoyed it. I’d be making windowsills, door frames, fire places - even building walls. But compared to playing rugby, it’s night and day.
“If I ever have a bad day at training, I think back to what it was like working in that cold shed.
“When I got offered my academy contract with Glasgow three years ago, I wasn’t sure if I should accept it. But I looked around and thought: ‘Do I want to be here all my life or do I want to give rugby a crack?’
“Now I just sit and think how blessed I am that it has all paid off.”
While Warriors team-mates Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson were off getting battered from pillar to post by England and Wales during last year’s dismal Six Nations under former coach Scott Johnson, Russell was back at Scotstoun hoping to finally convince Gregor Townsend that he was more than a third-choice number 10.
But by the time Glasgow had qualified for the Pro12 final, he had done just that as he started at the RDS, where the Warriors ultimately sank 34-12 to Ulster.
One of Cotter’s first acts after taking up the Scotland reins was to call up the exciting youngster to his first squad for the summer tour of North America.
He then started all three November Tests with Argentina, New Zealand and Tonga and is in the box seat to take on the playmaking duties again when the Dark Blues kick off against France in Paris on February 7.
If the Scottish support were unsure of who the fair-haired youngster expertly kicking for touch was as they beat Argentina, ran the All Blacks close and then thrashed Tonga, they soon found out.
With a carefree attitude - illustrated by regular displays of his trademark dug-out dance routine - Russell appears to be taking life as an international in his stride.
But trying to convince more experienced team-mates of his tactical calls almost left him shaking in his boots.
He said: “Those three Tests, even Tonga, were a step up from the standard you get at club level. But it was a great learning ground for me.
“I wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience but I did find it surreal walking out at a packed Murrayfield to play for my country.
“It was something I’d dreamed of since I was kid. So actually getting the chance to do it, especially against the best team in the world, was strange. It’s still hard to get my head round it.
“But I have to get my head round it. I am the starting 10 for Scotland and there are a lot of responsibility and expectations on my shoulders.
“The position I play, I’m expected to be the playmaker, so it can be tough coming in and telling guys who have been playing for five or 10 years like Ross Ford or Greig Laidlaw what to do.
“It’s not daunting but it can make you nervous trying to tell them to do this and that.
“However, I’m expected to be the brains of the attack and if I think something is best, these guys have to listen to me and go along with it.
“Vern has been very good. He has put his faith in a lot of young guys and he wants us to express ourselves. Having a coach who will back you does give you a lot of confidence.”
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