The Glasgow No 10 has been starting stand-off in each of Scotland’s last five matches but found himself redeployed at inside centre to accommodate the return of the prodigal during the second half of Friday night’s win over Georgia.
Russell’s introduction as a substitute for the final 25 minutes added zip to the Scotland attack and he and Hastings combined nicely as the home side put some gloss on the scoreline.
Gregor Townsend was pleased with the 48-7 win, particularly with the effort of the forwards, but knows it will be a lot tougher next week when Scotland take on Wales in the final match of their delayed Six Nations campaign.
Having Russell at 10 and Hastings at 12 is something Townsend will ponder as he mulls over his tactics for Llanelli.
“It was an option we had looked at, but we didn’t have a set plan for what we would do around the centres,” said the coach, who started with Harlequins’ James Lang at 12 and Gloucester’s Chris Harris at 13 against Georgia.
“We certainly wanted to have Finn come on and play ten at some point in that second half. James Lang picked up a dead leg at the end of the first half, so that was in my mind too and also I was keen to see Adam playing at 12.
“He’s played at 10 with Finn at 12 against Argentina a couple of years ago, so to see him outside Finn will be worth storing and reviewing to see where we are next week.”
Russell, in his first Scotland appearance in over a year, seemed delighted to be back in the national side and sees merit in the two-pronged approach.
“I think having two tens on the field can work really well in attack because it changes the picture for the opposition,” said the Racing 92 playmaker. “It was good for me to know that if I gave Hasto the ball at 12 he’s got some great passing and kicks, that he was a threat out there. So it was good fun having him out there.”
One particular interplay stood out but Russell said it was not something they had worked on in training last week but rather a move that dates back to their time together at Glasgow Warriors.
“We didn’t run much together at 10 and 12 [in training]. During the week I’d slide in at 10 and he’d go onto the bench where I’d been. The play we had, we would have run that anyway. We looked to run it in the first half, and I think we got a penalty from it. It is a play we had at Glasgow and here, but it was nothing to do with the combination.”
Russell is a world-class stand-off who unquestionably improves Scotland but the player himself was keen to play down the significance of his return.
“Personally I wasn’t going out to show anything or to do too much, I was just trying to play my game,” he said. “It’s not for me to decide who plays 10, 12 or who’s in the 23. I just went out there to have some fun, and that’s why I’m smiling and looking like I’m enjoying it.
“I’m not going out there to say ‘it’s me against Hasto’ – it’s a team game and I’m going to support him whether he’s starting, at 12 or on the bench. I’m going to try to help him as much as possible no matter what, as I’d do for anyone in the team.”
Following his dramatic exit on the eve of the Six Nations and the strain it put on his relationship with Townsend, Russell was understandably keen to keep things low key.
“I just took a step back,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and say ‘let’s do this or do that’. I left it to the boys. Hasto was starting so I had a chat with them about what I was thinking going into the game or things he could potentially look for. But it wasn’t me that was driving the game so I didn’t say too much or get too involved. I just chatted with the subs about what we might do and how the game plan might change. I was more focused on making sure the subs were ready rather than me saying too much. I left the other stuff to the guys who were starting.”
Russell, who won his 50th cap on Friday night, joined up with the squad a week late because of his involvement in the Heineken Champions Cup final where Racing lost narrowly to an Exeter Chiefs side featuring Stuart Hogg. The two Scotland team-mates were pictured sharing a beer after the final whistle and the photograph seems to have taken on a life of its own on social media.
“We were just blethering away,” explained Russell “It wasn’t even about rugby, we were just chatting and having a laugh. It is the first time I have seen him since the World Cup almost. We were just having a catch-up. Jonny [Gray] was there as well. It wasn’t anything to do with rugby, it was more just us having a laugh. We were just chatting away.”