Scotland stand-off Finn Russell opens up on half-time chat in Calcutta Cup at Twickenham

Finn Russell believes his stunning game-changing impact on that classic Calcutta Cup epic at the end of the Six Nations has given him the perfect confidence boost as the Rugby World Cup in Japan approaches fast.

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell during training at St Andrews. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell during training at St Andrews. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell during training at St Andrews. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU

A battered and bruised Scotland were down and out at Twickenham, trailing 31-7 at half-time back in the middle of March, when the national team’s chief playmaker decided enough was enough and decided to take the lead during dressing room discussions and plot a change of strategy.

It paid off spectacularly as one of the most memorable 40 minutes in the history of Scottish rugby as the men in dark blue cut loose and roared back to run in five tries against a shell-shocked England and storm to a stunning 38-31 lead. They eventually had to settle for a 38-38 draw but Russell, who pulled the strings brilliantly and scored an interception try himself amidst the bedlam, takes satisfaction from the role he played in that sensational turnaround.

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In his post-match interview after the epic encounter, the Racing 92 stand-off hinted at a passionate exchange of opinions at the interval and yesterday, for the first time, he spoke in more detail about that 
chaotic afternoon.

“With all players and coaches you need discussions like that,” he said. “It has to be open and honest. Whether that is myself, another player, you need to have these discussions and say what you think. You might be wrong but as long as you feel comfortable saying it.

“That is what I try and get out of the young boys. I ask them, ‘what do you think of that, what do you think of this’? The more the young guys speak they will see things different to others.

“At half-time in that game something was not working. I was just saying what I thought we had to do. [Scrum-half] Greig [Laidlaw] made a few points, [Head coach] Gregor [Townsend] had his points as well.

“I suppose rather than just have Gregor saying we have to do this and that the more heads you have working together the better the outcome.”

Asked if he had doubts that his intervention could have made things worse rather than better, Russell broke into a broad grin and said: “It couldn’t have been much worse!”

Russell was speaking at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews where Townsend’s 44-man extended training squad are continuing their preparations for Japan this week.

The former Glasgow stand-off, who has enjoyed an excellent season in Paris after joining Racing 92 in a big-money move last summer, will turn 27 the day after Scotland’s opening pool match against Ireland in Yokohama and admits that the events of Twickenham have put a spring in his step as he looks ahead to a second World Cup four years after England, when another Twickenham epic ended their hopes in that agonising 35-34 loss to Australia in the quarter-finals.

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“Yeah it [the Calcutta Cup] was good. It’s what I’m like,” continued Russell. “I am always going to stay true to myself. If I don’t think something is working I am happy to express it.

“I suppose two years ago [when Scotland were thumped 61-21 by England] we were in the same position, weren’t we, although I suppose it was a different game. With the experience and confidence that has come over the last year… it is hard to say if I would have been able to say it without it.

“I was a bit frustrated at how it was going and there are probably a few factors there as to why I said it and expressed myself as I did.”

When Russell looks back at his first taste of a World Cup he recognises that a lot has changed from that tournament under Vern Cotter when he was still finding his feet at the top level of the game.

“I suppose that’s a long time ago. They [the memories] are still there but I’m not going to be thinking about the last World Cup,” said the Stirlingshire man. “It was an experience and I can use it to help myself and the team. But I’m not using that to fuel how I do. Everybody wants to do well. If you don’t, what’s the point playing rugby?

“I’ve had four more years playing since then, one of them in France. I developed as a player, as a man. I’ve matured and got more experience.

“I’ve still got all the aspects of the game I had back then but there’s just been a lot more rugby since then.”

Russell will be hoping to earn his 45th cap in his adopted new country when Scotland open their warm-up series against France in Nice a fortnight on Saturday.

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Until then, the work continues, although the squad will enjoy a day off on the Fife coast today.

“I think we’re playing cricket at Elie Beach then maybe a round of golf depending on the weather. Hopefully we’ll get to enjoy it,” added Russell.

“My uncle [Bruce] captained Scotland at cricket and I like golf as long as the weather is all right! I’m looking forward to some golf, just switching off and whacking the ball about a bit.”