Will Carling is not exactly a darling of Scotland rugby supporters but few could possibly disagree with the tweet he sent out at half-time of yesterday’s 32-26 win over France.
The Scots were trailing 20-14 at the break and the man who captained England in the famous 1990 Grand Slam game at Murrayfield commented: “Hogg should have a quiet word with Russell. He does not need to make the next miracle pass/kick. He just needs to be calm and do the basics for next 20 mins of play - get himself back into the game. The magic will come, don’t force it....”
That summed up the thoughts of many as the ultimately uplifting joy of the victory was tempered by concerns about the form of star stand-off Finn Russell.
That isn’t just a grim determination to dig for negatives on what was a gloriously positive afternoon following the shock and dismay of what unfolded in Wales eight days before. Rather, it is a reflection of how central a figure Russell is to this Scotland team heading into next year’s World Cup and beyond.
His attacking, on-the-edge approach has always carried the risk of the occasional howler amid the breathtaking moments of genius but the 25-year-old, who leaves Glasgow for a big-money move to Racing 92 next season has looked out of form in his past two Scotland games.
Sunday was better than Cardiff, there were some breaks and a lovely pass for Sean Maitland’s try, but the regular failure to find touch kicking from hand was a worrying sight.
He was replaced on the hour-mark and coach Gregor Townsend switched Greig Laidlaw to stand-off, a position he hadn’t started for Scotland in almost six years.
Laidlaw adapted seamlessly in what was a matchwinning performance and there was the bonus of seeing sub Ali Price get Cardiff out of his system with a bright cameo.
So what chance Townsend goes with a Price-Laidlaw half-back combination from the start against England a week on Saturday?
None, going by the coach’s comments post-game that Russell “will be under even more pressure against England”.
Russell is very much Townsend’s protégé, so similar to how his boss used to play the game, often unpredictable but never short of confidence to have another go.
Townsend is likely to back Russell to come good against England and, more importantly, the player is the kind of character who will back himself to deliver.
Some tweaks to his game need to be worked on. Carling’s advice about not trying to force the miraculous every time he gets the ball must be heeded. It may also be time for someone like Stuart Hogg to take over the touchkicking duties.
As with Hogg’s position of full-back, stand-off is not an area where ready-made specialist replacements abound. Centre Peter Horne has filled in well there in the past and, as proved on Sunday, Laidlaw can always be called upon if needed.
The hope is that Russell storms back and puts on a show against England and such a move is not needed. Scotland managed to win on Sunday with just one of the starting half-back pairing at their very best. Both of them clicking in tandem is a mouthwatering prospect.