Finn Russell backs Richie Gray over decision to miss World Cup

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell has backed Richie Gray on his decision to write off this year’s World Cup.

Finn Russell is focused on driving the Scotland attack as they prepare for the Georgia double-header in their final World Cup warm-up games. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

It was confirmed yesterday that the experienced lock had declined to be involved in the tournament which kicks off in Japan next month, citing “family reasons”.

The 30-year-old former British and Irish Lion’s wife Ellie gave birth to a son at the end of May after Gray, pictured inset, had returned to action with his French club Toulouse at the beginning of the year following a long injury lay-off.

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“I can understand it. He has had a long season with Toulouse, has just come back from injury and I think it was about 15 June that they played the final,” said Russell, referring to Gray’s performance off the bench in his club’s triumph in the French Top 14 final.

“If you have a few weeks off and then come straight back in you could put yourself at risk, not just for the World Cup but for the next season and the rest of his career,” added Russell.

“I think that might have been a factor for him. He also had a baby not that long ago so he has a lot going on, I think, on and off the field, so I understand his decision not to be involved.”

Russell is, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as Gray in their laid-back and sanguine approach to life.

“I’m chilled, as you can probably tell,” said the playmaker, who was back in tandem with fellow French-based scrum-half Greig Laidlaw at the weekend as Scotland recovered from their Nice nightmare to beat France 17-14 at BT 
Murrayfield.

“I’m very relaxed, but it can be focused at the same time,” said the Racing 92 man. “I know my role and what needs to get done when it comes to the game. Off the field I’m very chilled out and even in my build-up to the game you will see me with headphones on, listening to music, just kind of doing my own thing.

“Everyone is different in how they prepare and get ready for games, but for me I am very chilled, but I know my role and know what I need to get done.

“When I was younger, maybe coaches would think I didn’t care or that I was having a laugh and a joke. But that’s what I was like, I suppose. But everyone is individually different and the way I prepare will be different.

“Some boys are more serious. Pete Horne is chilled out but he gets everything right because he is an incredible professional. And I’m just slightly different. I do it my own way.”

Russell’s cool approach has brought a bit of calm to Scotland’s World Cup preparations in the wake of that 32-3 hiding in France. He and Clermont-Auvergne scrum-half Laidlaw surpassed the starting partnership appearances of fellow Scottish Lions Gary Armstrong and Craig Chalmers (32) at the weekend and are now three short of equalling the record-holding half-back partnership of Greig’s uncle Roy Laidlaw of Jed-Forest and Selkirk stand-off John Rutherford.

The focus now shifts to Georgia as Scotland make the long trip to become the first tier-one country to play a Test match in Tbilisi.

Russell has experience of the terrain having played a pre-season tournament there soon after joining Racing 92 from Glasgow Warriors last summer, and is clubmates with Georgian props Vasil Kakovin and Guram Gogichashvili.

“When we get there we will probably just train all day on Thursday, morning and evening or morning and afternoon, and the Captain’s Run on Friday,” said Russell.

“The weather will be a bit warmer than here, but the conditions for the game are not meant to be the best. I think it’s actually meant to rain. When we get there we will have a better feel for it and see what the conditions are.”

Georgia are famed for their big pack but Russell rejects any suggestion the backs are in for an easy ride while the big men do all the graft.

“No, not at all. If you look at our forwards and the weekend, the scrummaging was great and the lineouts were really good as well. I think the forwards against France definitely turned up and performed and I know they will do the same this weekend.

“For us as backs, we just need to do our job. That can change depending on conditions, whether we put more kicks through and try to pressure them in their own half or keep the ball in hand and try to execute the edge attacks. For me, it is just about making sure that I do my job and know everything that I need to know and help to drive the attack.”