Glasgow’s Finn Russell seeks to cement team place

WATCHING Finn Russell in action at a publicity stunt in Glasgow yesterday afternoon to promote ticket sales for Scotland’s upcoming November Test schedule was a rather bizarre experience.

Scotlands Euan Murray (2nd left) and Finn Russell join fans at the St Enoch Centre in Glasgow. Picture: SNS

The wide-eyed 22-year-old looked as impressed by the novelty of being allowed to throw and kick rugby balls at a set of inflatable posts inside a shopping centre as the kids who had sneaked away from their parents to take part in the event.

It is little wonder Russell seems so amused by what is going on around him. His career trajectory has ramped upwards at such an improbable angle in recent months that it must be disorientating at times.

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“This time last year I was playing [amateur rugby] with Ayr week in and week out. To go from there to having my picture up in the St Enoch centre [as part of the promotion he was attending], and maybe playing for Scotland in the Autumn Tests next month is great. It is something I am still getting used to. It’s quite good fun actually,” he grins.

An illustration of how far Russell has come in a very short time can be seen in the fact that, if he is selected to play for Glasgow Warriors against Bath at Scotstoun next weekend, it will be his first ever taste of European Rugby.

He might be the man who was entrusted to drive the Glasgow bus for almost all their big contests during that impressive run to last season’s Pro12 play-off Grand Final, and he was rewarded for his heroics in the league with two Scotland caps against the USA and Canada during the summer – but this all happened well after the Warriors’ Heineken Cup aspirations had once again fizzled out before the end of January.

Russell has only started 12 games for the Warriors, although that figure would almost certainly have been higher had he not missed the first four weeks of the season with a shoulder injury picked up against Canada during the summer.

His comeback has been a gradual process. With Duncan Weir, who led the Scottish line throughout last season’s Six Nations as well as their summer Tests against Argentina and South Africa, doing his level best to make sure he doesn’t become yesterday’s man at the grand old age of 23, and Peter Horne showing he is as comfortable at first receiver as he is in his usual role of inside-centre, head coach Gregor Townsend has not felt any real pressure to rush his protégé back into action sooner than he thinks is good for the player.

After two cameos off the bench against Connacht and Benetton Treviso, he finally got a full 80 minutes against Ulster last Saturday. And while he was inevitably disappointed that the match ended in a first defeat of the season for the Warriors, Russell says he is pretty happy with how things went on a personal level.

“I felt okay. It went pretty well even if it was unfortunate that our winning streak came to an end. These things happen, I suppose. It was great to get my first start, especially over in Ulster because I had never played there before, so I got a chance to see what it was like,” he said.

“I was kind of lucky I didn’t need surgery on my shoulder so I have managed to get back and have had my first start before the European Cup, so I couldn’t have timed it any better. It is all down to the great medical staff at Glasgow,” he added.

Russell is hoping that he did enough in defeat against Ulster to persuade Townsend that he is the right man to wear the No 10 jersey against Bath.

That is mainly because this is precisely the sort of game any young player should want to be involved in, but also because he knows that he now has only three matches left to push his claim for a place in the Scotland team to play Argentina at Murrayfield on 8 November.

“Duncy Weir and Peter Horne at Glasgow Warriors, and Tom Heathcote through in Edinburgh, are all going well. The main goal for me is to get another start for Glasgow this week and build on that because if I’m not starting for Glasgow then I can’t expect to be in the Scotland set-up,” he reasons.

“As a No 10 it will be great to play against [Bath stand-off] George Ford, who is a quality young player. I have never played against him and I would love to have a shot and see what he is like.

“Both teams have been in good form this season and the fact that both of us lost last weekend won’t matter that much. They will have more fire in their belly because of the loss but then again so will we, so it will be a tough game. I’m really looking forward to it.”