Finn Russell’s Parisian adventure refreshes him for Scotland

Finn Russell has never been a player to lack belief in himself but has brought an extra soupcon of Parisian nonchalance and swagger to the Scotland’s Six Nations squad.

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell twirls a tennis racket after a knockabout during a training session at Oriam. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell twirls a tennis racket after a knockabout during a training session at Oriam. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU

Never cocky or arrogant, Russell has brought a refreshing sense of assuredness ever since bursting on the scene with Glasgow and, at Scotland’s Oriam training base yesterday, was a picture of calm confidence.

And little wonder. Anyone who feared that his high-profile move to French aristocrats Racing 92 last summer might be a risky, albeit lucratively remunerated, gamble clearly underestimated Russell’s trademark tranquility.

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He has been in superb form in the French capital, making the sky blue and white hooped No 10 jersey his own, and in no doubt that he was a changed man from the one that left Glasgow at the end of last season. Although, with the irrepressible Russell it is also a case of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

“I can speak a little bit of French… at the weekend after a couple of drinks I find I speak French even better… I think I can anyway!” said Russell with a laugh.

The stand-off stepping out of what had become a bit of a comfort zone at Scotstoun has led to development both on and off the field.

“I think, when I was at Glasgow, because it was still the SRU, there was a big focus on the international stuff,” he explained.

“In France the focus is on my club rugby, not worrying bout anything to do with Scotland. Then I came back last week and that was me just getting back into international mode.

“For me, it is different being away. My sole focus is playing for Racing week in, week out – then I come back to Scotland and it changes. It’s been good for me.”

Of course, when a club like Racing 92 shell out they expect to get bang for their buck and Russell has been adapting to the fact the days of being wrapped in cotton wool by the Scottish system are gone.

Even more so with the retirement of former Springbok Pat Lambie, pictured, with persistent concussion issues. He said: “I’ll go back between the Six Nations to play for Racing, so I will be in and out of the squad during the weeks off.

“That will be a different experience, again. But it’s one that is going quite well.

“I get on with the coaches at Racing really well. Obviously with Pat Lambie having to retire, for me, it’s just is how it is. I have to go back and play.

“I’m in a different mindset from when I was at Glasgow, when you would know that playing the first two games meant getting the third week off, then you play a game and get the next week off. I know I could now go seven, eight, however many games on the bounce.

Russell, who now has 40 Scotland caps, added: “I’ve just played seven in a row there, so it was good getting [last] weekend off. It could be the same again, if not more. So it’s about having a different mindset.

“When I signed to go play for Racing over in France, I knew this is what could happen. I was ready for that. It is what it is – you get on with it.”

On top of the move being a rewarding experience personally, Russell believes what he has learned in the past few months can now be harnessed by Scotland.

‘There are definitely things I can bring across. [Scrum-half and skipper] Greig Laidlaw playing at Claremont has shown that,” he said. “There are boys in every team who can bring something into the Scotland side.

“For me, it might be having a chat with the 13, saying: ‘We might do this’. Or talking to the wingers, explaining that [Racing 92 wing Simon] Zebo hangs in this position, so these are the spaces I’m looking for.

“Tommy [Seymour] will ask me questions about what gaps I’m looking for with the wingers. Zebo runs it well, so Tommy is looking at that. They’re just small conversations. Small things that may be working for me in France, bringing them back here.

“One thing I’m driving for is for the boys to have more confidence in going out when we go wide. It is hard against blitz defences but, playing in the Top 14, you get that every week – and we’ve managed to get outside.

“I’m trying get the boys to do that, to go and back themselves to get outside, instead of playing a one-out direct style.”

Russell expects Scotland to need to be at their best if they are to subdue tournament outsiders Italy on Saturday and get the campaign off to the 
positive start that the nation is craving.

“Everyone assumes that Italy at home is the easy game. The way Treviso and Zebre are going and the way Italy played last year shows it won’t be,” 
he said.

“It was only the last few minutes that we beat them last year [in Rome]. I think every team’s getting better, especially Italy, they’ve improved so much in the last few years and I think [coach Conor] O’Shea’s done a really good job with them.

“For us it’s going to be a tough game, start of the tournament you’re still feeling your way around, you have a week-and-a-half to prepare and get things right.

“It’s a game we can win so long as we do things right and play at our best. At the same time, Italy are very dangerous and could be one of these underdog teams that everyone overlooks and assumes will be easy at home.

“Last year especially, going to down to Wales, we were almost favourites for that game, and it didn’t turn out that well. After last year we need to focus on ourselves and not look at what everyone is saying and expectations. It’s a Test match and we need to go out on Saturday and put our best foot forward for the whole tournament.

“If we get a win it puts us in a good place.”

Russell is evidently a man in a good place at the moment, although he accepts that those French lessons need a bit of work. “I miss them when I’m over here. They were going well until November and then I had a month off, and I didn’t quite get back into them. It takes time. Greig’s been there a year longer than me so I think he’s pretty good. We’re not having conversations in French yet! But it’s getting there.”