FOR the first time since Edinburgh contested the original and defunct Celtic Cup way back in 2003, a Scottish pro-team will appear in a major final and compete for silverware – the Pro12 title trophy. Never mind Guinness, Thank Goodness for Glasgow.
Friday’s 16-15 semi-final victory over Munster was a huge win for Gregor Townsend’s side and for Scottish rugby as a whole. There is nothing wrong with the current system that a little success won’t put right and 10,000 passionate fans at Scotstoun will attest to that.
It was a bruising encounter with both sides taking casualties. Glasgow emptied their entire bench and with approximately ten minutes to go Sean Lamont was pressed into emergency service as a makeshift flanker after Chris Fusaro took one hit too many.
The intensity was gob-smacking and smacking pretty much every other part of the body as well: Townsend likened it to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup and he wasn’t exaggerating. In one little cameo Glasgow skipper Al Kellock laid down a marker in the first half, changing his angle of run when he spied Paul O’Connell and hitting him so hard he put the Munster legend on his backside. Welcome to Scotstoun!
It was brutal and bloody and at the centre of the maelstrom was a small oasis of calm in the form of Finn Russell, who orchestrated things beautifully for the home side. He made the odd mistake but considering that he was turning out for Ayr against Gala in the club game just two months back he must have pinched himself yesterday morning just to confirm he wasn’t dreaming, presuming he could find a square inch of flesh that wasn’t battered and bruised.
“Especially to come from Gala a few weeks ago to winning the semi-final of the Rabo – it’s hard to believe,” he said after the game. “I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and think that but I’m just in the moment now.
“My aims at the start of the year were probably just when they [rival stand-offs Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson] were away with Scotland to get a game then and hopefully take my chance. It’s just brilliant to get as many games as I have – it’s a lot more than what I thought I’d get and I’ve done a lot better than what I thought.”
The point is that the 21-year-old playmaker is not flawless – he makes mistakes as you’d expect in his breakthrough season – but the impressive aspect is that they don’t affect him. He picks himself up and has another pop.
Russell threw the sort of dummy that Munster wouldn’t buy if it came with a free subscription to the Racing Post. He duly got hammered but still he continued to carry the ball to the line. The young Scot missed his first penalty but held his nerve to kick three more plus a touchline conversion.
“He’s exceeded all our expectations,” said his coach, who knows something about stand-off play himself. “Nailing those kicks to control the game was great, and he is a games player so if you put him into that environment where there is a game going on he comes out [of] his shell.
“He talks a lot more than he would do at training or team meetings, you hear him organising the forwards, he loves that environment, and it’s great that he’s playing so well.”
Friday proved a good test for the young stand-off because Munster’s defence was utterly unyielding. Glasgow were banging their heads against a solid red brick wall and just when the game cried out for Russell to try something a little different he came up with the most delicate chip to the left-hand corner that led directly to Gordon Reid’s try. All of Glasgow’s points on Friday came from two of their home-bred young players who are unusually used to winning.
“Every game you think about winning, not losing,” says Russell. “That’s nine games in a row we’ve won so we’ve got real momentum going into the final now. It would be better if it was at home but even if it’s away it will be the same mentality: positive.
“We definitely believe we can win it. We ran Leinster close over there last time. We’ve beaten Ulster at home a few weeks ago. We’ll have to perform on the night and it’s not going to be easy but there’s a positive energy in the camp.”
Russell will be asked to bring some of that positive energy to Scotland’s summer squad, announced on Tuesday, where he will be joined by his colleague Kevin Bryce, the bolter in the squad, despite the hooker only playing 46 minutes for Glasgow all season.