Finn Russell the perma-grinning Scotland playmaker was back - and all of Murrayfield smiled with him
He did it in the newspaper photos when breaking his silence on the deadly serious matter of a fall-out with his head coach threatening his continued involvement with Scotland.
And he did it in the summer, after being thrust into the action from the bench for a match just about as deadly serious as rugby gets – the British and Irish Lions versus world champions South Africa, with a brutal series locked at a Test apiece.
So there was one thing Australia were probably not going to be able to achieve on Sunday afternoon – wiping the smile off of Finn Russell’s face.
The perma-grinning playmaker was back in his usual place and a sold-out BT Murrayfield was smiling, for this was the fans’ first opportunity to see the A-team after two long years and also a chance to show gratitude for those stirring victories at Twickenham and the Stade de France.
But the Wallabies bore sunny dispositions of their own, looking very much back to their old vibrant selves after some chaos and embarrassment during the previous regime and going all out for six wins in a row.
Russell vs Quade Cooper, hands poised like duelling gunslingers hovering over their bolsters for the next spin-pass opportunity, would have been an elite contest at 10 to have everyone beaming in the autumn sunshine, but the veteran Aussie was back in Japan with his club so James O’Connor was deputising.
For the Scot, more goes right than wrong now. Murrayfield decided long ago to buy into his occasionally high-risk ploys and enjoy them. His thrilling turn in Cape Town enabled fans in the other home nations to catch up in appreciation of his quixotic, quicksilver gifts. And here he was doing it for Scotland again, though his first involvement was to have a kick charged down in his 22. Probably he was just checking we were all paying attention.
The next thing he did was a Meadowlark Lemon-style flip pass from up near his armpit to Scotland’s Aussie-born centre Sam Johnson while his next two kicks troubled the Aussies. For them, O’Connor hoofed into space and the visitors came away with a penalty, but the fly-half fluffed his effort at goal.
It was fast and furious with plenty of careering collisions, Zander Fagerson and rival prop Allan Alaalatoa wrestling on the turf and Darcy Graham almost being intercepted.
Captain Stuart Hogg had offered some tantalising words pre-match: “To be the best team in the world we need to beat the best.” The captain certainly made the best break of the opening exchanges, a 50-yard dash continued by Ali Price and Duhan van der Merwe. Back came Australia and back went Hogg to deal with another probing kick from O’Connor. Incredibly, with a quarter of the game gone, the scoreboard was still blank.
Not for much longer. In the 21st minute after more heavy pressure on the Wallabies’ right flank the heavy brigade in dark blue cleared a path for man-of-the-match Hamish Watson to barrel over for a try.
The crowd were loving it, roaring their approval for every single yard gained and booing loudly when Graham exploded down his wing and, chasing his punt, collided with Andrew Kellaway.
The kicking from hand from both stand-offs was exceptional but when O’Connor again fired the men of gold forward he would find Russell, cool as you like behind his own tryline, hitting halfway with a torpedoed clearance.
It was a proper heavyweight contest and captain Michael Hooper thought he’d scored under the posts but Alaalatoa, clearly keen to get physical with a Fagerson again, was ruled to have slugged Zander’s brother Matt and was sent to the sin-bin.
Scotland, though, were standing up to the prime Australian beef. Johnson, far from being the biggest centre in rugby, showed the way by thundering into Taniela Tupou who without being too unkind, was the squarest man on the pitch. The prop stayed down, didn’t know whether it was Sunday or Christmas and had to exit the park groggily.
If Tupou was discombobulated his team-mates were fully focused and the man with the worst hair on the field, Rob Leota, dived for the line to put them ahead. The blood and thunder continued with Hogg squaring up to Tom Wright who’d prevented a quick lineout and Hunter Paisami producing the tackle of the match to halt Watson in full runaway bullock mode.
Back came Scotland, though, and after concerted pressure, a break from Johnson the highlight, debutant Ewan Ashman touched down in the corner with an exceptional diving finish. Then Australia regained the lead through an O’Connor penalty.
And what of Smiler? Russell went quiet for a spell but was far from finished. When Scotland turned stout defence into thrilling attack a try seemed inevitable but the stand-off, when many of his contemporaries would have been content passing along the line, just overcooked his kick to the corner.
Then, as the contest reached fever pitch and Australia booted long, he trapped the ball under his foot. Kenny Dalglish did this all the time but never with a flying egg. There was jeopardy involved - of course there was - but he was able to pick up and dink another pass before the opposition could stop him.
And when he fired over the winning kick? Well, all of Murrayfield went ear-to-ear with him.
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