Finn Russell admits he hasn’t visited the Louvre or been up the Eiffel Tower yet but he has thrown himself into one aspect of Parisian culture – eating out.
“I thought about cooking, but I thought, as I am by myself, by the time I go out and buy all the bits I need I might as well just go out and eat – it costs like 18 euros and, if I buy it in and don’t use it, then it’s a waste,” said the Scotland stand-off as he gave the media an entertaining update on his big-money move from Glasgow Warriors to Racing 92.
The 26-year-old, who will win his 39th Scotland cap against South Africa tomorrow, has made an instant impact in the French capital, impressing in the No 10 pale blue and white hooped jersey, and says he has loved immersing himself in a new culture and learning a new language, even though that remains a work in progress.
“I ordered liver. I don’t like liver,” he said with a wince. “I ordered that by accident, and a guy was taking us out for dinner so I had to say I loved it, but it hasn’t been too bad. Steak and chips is easy!
“My diet has changed a lot, I think I eat a lot more bread and pasta over there, but maybe not so many sweets! But I’m not finding it an issue. My weight has not actually gone up, it has actually come down, so I must be doing something right.”
Russell said he was loving life in France but stressed that learning the language was something he is taking seriously as he looks to continue the settling-in process.
“Yes, we get lessons twice a week at the club which is really good,” he explained. “I am in the beginners’ group, and then there’s boys who have been there for a year or more who are in the advanced group. I can speak probably more than I can understand.
“The rugby stuff is not that bad because things are up on a board and you are chatting through it, so you know what they are jabbering on about – which is good because you learn a lot of words because you know the context really well.
“It is when you go out to a restaurant, I can ask for a couple of tables, the problems start when they start asking questions back. You know the first couple will be ‘inside or outside’ and ‘how many people’, but after that I am lost!
“I have come on a lot since going over there, which is good, but it will take a while. Speaking to a few boys who’ve been there for five, six, seven years, they say it took them a few years to be able to speak it and understand it fluently, so it will take a while, but it is good fun trying to learn.
“There are hard days when you are pretty tired you almost switch off, and because you can’t speak it fluently it feels like just a mumble, but some days if I am feeling good I will try to listen, understand and speak it more.”
Russell said that getting out of what had become a comfortable bubble at Glasgow was one of the motivators, along with the reported £700,000 a season salary no doubt, for his decision to join Racing and test himself in the French Top 14.
It has meant a bit more time in his own company but the gregarious Russell hasn’t found that to be a problem.
“It is only ever a few days you have on your own, because I have someone coming over at the weekend, or there is a game and we are travelling down the day before and back up the day after,” he said. “So it is only a few days you have in the training centre and then on your own.
“I think it is good getting my own space. Back in Glasgow there was always people in the flat with Ali [Price], my wee sister and Emma [girlfriend] being there most nights.
“I like being with people but, at the same time, it is good to get my own space and just do what I want to do – and I think for my career it has been beneficial because if one night I am tired and don’t want to do anything I can just chill out and not worry about anything.
“The culture’s been really good. It’s kind of similar to Glasgow, all the boys are really close like a family. For me, it’s been easy to fit in and a lot of the boys speak good English as well. I’m trying to learn French, but being able to chat to them in English helps a lot. It’s been easy to settle in and just worry about the rugby. One of the differences is I’m there by myself but it’s an hour 20 minute flight over. My mum’s been over a lot and my girlfriend Emma. It’s been easy, it’s been fine.”
Admitting that there were some concerns about how things would go leaving the Scotstoun comfort zone, even the ever positive Russell couldn’t have dreamed of a better start, scoring two tries in a man-of-the-match performance in his Top 14 debut at Toulon.
“It was good, a few of the guys had never won away at Toulon so it was good for the whole team,” he said. “And for me it was good to come in and have a decent game and get off to a good start. It is a really good team culture so I think even if I hadn’t got off to a good start, if I had a couple of bad games, I don’t think they would have been thinking: ‘Who is this guy, let’s get him out and get someone else in’.
“That’s not just the players but the coaching staff and the owners, who are there quite a bit as well, so it is a very team-orientated club, but it is a big family overall. I’d feel comfortable going to speak to anyone in the club so that takes a bit of pressure off the playing side because you know that everyone has got your back and everyone has got trust in you.”
Russell said that he had been keeping in touch with his old pals in Scotland via PlayStation but has loved being back with them in the flesh for this autumn campaign and is relishing tomorrow’s big game against the mighty Springboks.
“They’re obviously very dangerous, score a lot of tries from counter-attack. They’re very physical too,” said Russell.
“We’ll have to get a balance on how much we throw it around. Horney [Pete Horne] at 12 has a left foot we can use and Hoggy [Stuart Hogg] has a long kick. We will definitely go for it at times. As with every game you sometimes have to slow it down, stick a high ball up, a long kick, give them a go and defend. It will depend on how the game unfolds. Me and Greig [Laidlaw] will get a feel for it.”