IT SAYS something about the professionalism of this Scotland squad that the days of celebrating a win in the opening match of a World Cup campaign with anything other than a nutritious shake are long gone. That is especially true of Finn Russell who enjoyed an assured start, scored a try and had his 23rd birthday to celebrate on Wednesday.
You hope he had a slice of cake because the Scotland stand-off suggested that the players were warned off coffee, never mind anything properly intoxicating, in case it interferes with the quality of their sleep in the three short days before taking the field against the USA at Elland Road.
“For the players who played against Japan it’s just get the head down and get the recovery in, sleep as much as we can, that’s the plan,” said Russell.
“So it’s going to be tough this week but physios and medical staff and the strength and conditioning guys have done a lot of work on what is best to get recovered so I think there is going to be a coffee ban after three o’clock.
“We need as much good, deep sleep as possible. There are a lot of things in place to help us recover quite quickly.”
“We stuck to the gameplan with the forwards a lot in the first half, in the second half we used them as well but we got the ball more in the backs and kept the ball and went through a few phases in the second half and we didn’t really do that in the first half.
“We got the pace up and got the backs going and Mark Bennett and I scored although all the backs really created space for themselves which is brilliant for me.”
The Scots looked at their most dangerous when they held on to possession for several phases and put the ball through the hands, the little inside flicks opening up a stubborn Japanese defence.
While the first half of the match was an arm wrestle, of the mind as much as of the muscles, the second half sparked into life with a slew of tries, five in all, with Russell himself touching down after dancing his way past two of three Japanese defenders. It was his second Test try having already crossed the line against Ireland.
“I thought it was going to go right and then the scrum wheeled and we thought we were going to get a penalty,” says Russell, “but, when it spilled out the back, Greig passed to me and I saw some space and thought ‘I am going to have a crack at that’.
“When I went I thought I am going to have to score this because it was on out wide. Initially when he [the defender] went down I reacted to the situation and managed to get to the line so it wasn’t too bad.”
“Japan’s defence in the first half was really good, outstanding. And then in the second half it just opened up a little bit, lots of backs had the ball in the outside channels. Just before half time if I had made that pass to Hoggy, the miss pass, I think we would have scored. We didn’t simplify it we just did what we have been drilled to do in the last few months, put it out the back, let Mark [Bennett] and I get hands on the ball early and making space for the full-backs and wingers which we did.”
How much the Japanese defence suffered from that four-day turnaround after their win over the Springboks only they can know but at least some Scottish players will very soon find out because they have the exact same recovery period before facing a physical Eagles side in Leeds. Sunday will be a day of rest for very few of this World Cup squad.
Coach Vern Cotter has given no inkling of what team he will pick but he did state after the match that all 31 players should be fit for selection. The worst injury suffered against Japan proved to be stitches for David Denton and John Hardie, which the Kiwi took as a sign of commitment. The Scotland coach is sure to give a few who missed out on Wednesday’s selection a gallop this weekend with the abrasive duo of Alasdair Stokosch and Tim Swinson both putting their hands up, while Gordon Reid was the only prop unused against Japan.
Russell insists that he has no idea of whether he will be involved as yet but the young stand-off is a crucial cog in this Scotland team and may be rested for bigger challenges ahead, not that he is focused on anything but the next game.
“We got the result we were looking for,” Russell says, “bonus point win, five tries, that’s about as good as we could have asked for.
“It’s about getting a job done. In a tournament such as this with such a quick turnaround it’s getting the job done week in and week out. We have not looked ahead and we are not going to get ahead of ourselves. We got the job done and now its the USA and we want to be strong when we come up against them in a few days’ time.”