FORMER Scotland Under-20s outside half Tommy Allan is expected to be named in the Italy team to face Scotland this weekend, while one of the players who often kept him out of that team is just starting to force his way through the Scottish system.
Finn Russell is a few months older than Allan, but was hugely impressive in a rare Pro12 opportunity coming off the bench as he steered Glasgow to a come-from-behind victory in Cardiff at the weekend.
While Allan moved to Perpignan and got plenty of first team chances that propelled him into the Italy team, 21-year-old Russell has found it hard to make the breakthrough at home with the two players vying for the Scotland No 10 jersey above him in the pecking order.
His performance on Saturday encouraged coach Gregor Townsend, who said: “I was really pleased for Finn that he got a shot to play at this level, if he plays like that then he’ll get more opportunities. Finn looked really confident, he stepped up at first receiver and made a break with his first touch. Those kicks were really important for us, which is what you want from your players – playing with confidence, taking the initiative, showing work rate off the ball. We have strength in depth in a number of positions and fly half is one of them.”
Russell has been picked out as a young Scottish talent to nurture, coming up through the ranks at Stirling and Falkirk, sent on a scholarship to New Zealand and now with Ayr and Glasgow. His progress has been slower than Allan, something which says more about the lack of strategic planning at the top of the Scottish game than it does about his talent.
Allan was kept on the bench for Scotland Under-20s by a combination of Edinburgh’s Harry Leonard at 10 and Russell at 12. Leonard’s progress has been slowed, partly by injury, but sitting on the bench behind the more experienced South African Carl Bezuidenhout at the weekend hardly helps Scottish rugby.
Whether Falkirk product Russell should have been moved to Edinburgh rather than them bringing in an experienced South African is something for the powers-that-be in Murrayfield, but the current solution does not seem the best one.
Instead Russell has signed a new contract at Glasgow and is set to try and push his way past the current Scotland outside halves Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson – something he showed he is capable of doing on Saturday. He is looking forward to Townsend giving him more opportunities.
“That is great to hear that from your coach, especially with the Scotland guys away and a couple of games coming up so it would be good to get some chances to show what I’ve got before the Scotland guys come back,” said Russell, who landed four out of four kicks at goal in Cardiff.
“It was brilliant, that was my sort of rugby – a fast game on a good surface like that is the sort of rugby I love. The breaks were thanks to the other guys setting it up and the kicks only come from the forwards setting it up.
“In the 20s I played 12 so I wouldn’t say I kept Tommy out of the side, but as a back-up 10 it was easy for me to switch if it was needed. Tommy got a chance and he took it. He’s playing well. It’s one of those things that if you get your chance then you have to take it.”
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