The New Zealand captain is therefore on high alert for any tricks the Scotland fly-half might have up his sleeve when the sides meet at Murrayfield on Sunday. Russell is back in the Scotland squad for the first time since March after Gregor Townsend recalled him following Adam Hastings’ injury and he will start at 10 against the All Blacks.
The Racing 92 man spent time in New Zealand in 2013 after being awarded the John Macphail Rugby Scholarship along with scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and coaches Shade Munro and Alex Duncan. Russell was based in Christchurch and Whitelock recalls their playing a match together for Lincoln University which gave him an insight into the Scot’s rugby brain.
“He can pull anything out of the bag,” said the Kiwi skipper who trained at Murrayfield on Saturday. “I was lucky enough to play with him when he was in New Zealand a few years ago now, and he was exactly the same as a player then, and that’s something the Scottish side does feed on. He can do something that is not expected and it comes off for him because he’s a skilful player and he does know how to break a game open. So for us, it is about making sure we don’t give him time and space because that’s when he is at his best at coming up with whatever he is going to do.”
Scotland have never beaten New Zealand but Whitelock dismissed the stat as an irrelevance. “The reality is that it doesn’t matter,” said the Crusaders lock. “We’ve just got to worry about what we’re doing, get the process right and if we do that then, hopefully, we can put a good performance in.”
The All Blacks certainly managed that last weekend against Wales. Interestingly, they have used their time in Scotland to unwind after Cardiff rather than try to maintain the level of intensity which saw them score eight tries in a 55-23 win. Spookily enough, they have even managed to fit in a ghost tour in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
“What we’ve done this week is look at going right back to zero then build up the whole week, as opposed to try to keep at that level,” said Whitelock. “In the past we have tried to stay at that level and come unstuck because it is too hard to stay 100 per cent on the whole time. So, we’ve enjoyed getting round the city, having a look at the castle and learning some of the history. A few of the boys got a scare doing the ghost tour. So, we’ve had an awesome time but we know that everything will be judged on that 80-minute performance in Scotland, so we are now looking forward to getting back in game mode.
“We haven’t been here for a couple of years so that’s why we’re here at the ground, doing some skills, having a good look round, trying to get an understanding of what playing here means. We know it is going to be sold out. It will be an awesome occasion. There is nothing like playing Scotland at home.”