Sparkling Finn Russell steals the show for Scotland

Finn Russell makes a break against Georgia. Picture: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images
Finn Russell makes a break against Georgia. Picture: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images
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Now just two short of equalling the Scottish record for a Test half-back pairing, scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and, in particular, a dazzling display from stand-off Finn Russell, drove Scotland to this confidence-boosting dismantling of Georgia in Tbilisi last night.

Laidlaw’s uncle Roy and John Rutherford still lead the way, but he played his trademark steadying role, while Russell’s flair and audacity were simply too much for the east Europeans as their much-anticipated first hosting of a major rugby nation fell flat.

Greig Laidlaw showed he has back to his brilliant best.  Photograph: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images

Greig Laidlaw showed he has back to his brilliant best. Photograph: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images

After enduring horror starts in their previous three outings, the Scots needed a solid opening this time and, after Russell had an early kick charged down, it was Laidlaw who settled nerves with a couple of early penalties on what was another flawless match with the boot from the Jed man before the Russell Show really kicked into gear.

His brilliant chip and collect was followed by a lightning inside pass which kicked off a sparkling set of hands, which finished with Laidlaw unselfishly putting Ben Toolis in for the opening try.

There was more Russell magic when his lightning fast movement and crisp passing led to Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson’s first Scotland try on his first start. Russell showed the excellence of his defensive game with a crunching tackle to force a Georgian knock-on before Laidlaw added another penalty at the end of the first half to give the Scots an imposing 23-3 lead.

After returning as a pairing in the 17-14 home win over France the previous weekend, this was vintage stuff from the French-based duo and did no harm to the increasing possibility that they will be teamed up in the World Cup against Ireland in Yokohama on 22 September.

Russell is already inked in as chief playmaker and, while head coach Gregor Townsend will possibly try something new when the Georgians return to BT Murrayield on Friday, the value of the duo’s experience and understanding of each other was on full show at the Dinamo Arena.

Clermont-Auvergne scrum-half Laidlaw has seized the opportunity after slipping behind Ali Price in the battle for the No. 9 jersey during the Six Nations. His delivery was sharp and brisk, something which has been lacking in the eyes of some Scotland supporters. Of course, it was always felt that the higher-ranked visitors could hurt out wide a Georgian side famed for its physical pack.

Outside them it was the first time in six years that Scotland had started with more Edinburgh players than Glasgow in the back division, with full-back Blair Kinghorn and wing Darcy Graham outnumbering returning Warriors centre Sam Johnson.

Russell’s masterclass continued after the break as he brought out his full bag of tricks, from intelligent ground kicking to some cross-field kicks. The planned attack he sparked to send Hutchinson in for a dream double was a thing of beauty.

Laidlaw departed in the 58th minute replaced by Price and the former Glasgow team-mates linked up briefly as Russell put the icing on the cake with a sublimely-judged grubber which was pounced on by Graham for his fourth try in six Test appearances.

On a night when Russell could do no wrong, he nailed the touchline conversion before being withdrawn by Townsend, who stuck on Adam Hastings for the final 15 minutes. Price’s quick-thinking tap penalty set up lock Scott Cummings’ try which rounded off a big win in which you could barely hope for an easier man-of-the-match decision to make.