HOW best to sum up the change in Finn Russell in the four years which have passed since this tyro of a fly half inspired Scotland to the quarter finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup? Surely these days he couldn’t be said to be a little bit … you know … boring?

“I’ve obviously played a lot more rugby in four years, played in a lot of big games,” the 26-year-old says, now happily ensconced domestically at Racing 92 in Paris.

“I think going to France has been great for me because I had to learn how to control a team – and to establish myself as a number 10 again.

“The way they play over there is slightly different so, without thinking too much about it, I’ve had to adapt as I go.


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“I’m still going to try things and have a go all the time. But I kicked the ball 23 times against France [in the recent World Cup warm-up match at BT Murrayfield], which is probably the most I’ve ever kicked it in a game. Gregor brought up a stat from playing against Munster in a semi-final for Glasgow Warriors, when I think I only kicked the ball once. In a semi-final!

“The way I see it is it’s not being more boring. I just think it’s reacting to how rugby is going. You will still take risks but the risks have to be controlled.”

Scotland fans, of course, will be delighted to see Boring Finn Russell if Gregor Townsend’s side are winning in Japan this next five weeks. Yet the notion that the player has morphed into a teacher’s pet of a playmaker, a man always entirely at one with how his coach wants him to play, is contradicted somewhat by instances such as the epic 38-38 draw against England at Twickenham, where legend has it that the fly half took it upon himself to change the team’s tactics almost at half time.

“Every game I go into, I’ve got my own game plan as well as the coaches’ game plan,” says Russell. “Usually they match up.

“Sometimes there might be small things I see, weaknesses in defence, and I see a different picture,” he adds. “As long as I’m going into the game clear on how the opposition are going to defend, how we’re going to attack, then I’m comfortable with the majority of situations I’m going to face.

“In the game, you might see triggers. Or you make the wrong decision and analyse as you go along in the game. It’s kind of about adapting and learning on the field.”


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Whether it is a full back lining up a metre or so to one side, or a unbalanced defensive line, It always helps when you have the video analyst on hand at half time with footage on a tablet. It is another illustration of how big data is encroaching upon every area of modern sport.

“At half-time, I like to see the analyst, ask him if I can see ‘this, this and this’,” says Russell. “I then have a look through it.

“We did that in the last game against France, at home,” he adds. “I wanted to look at what the options were, what they were doing. We came out in the second half knowing that, if we got the same situation, we could get through it.”

In truth, while there might be the odd difference of opinion from time to time the trust between Russell and Townsend has only grown as the years have ticked by. With Adam Hastings offering an alternative option from the bench, the Racing 92 fly half is as integral to this group as ever, whether he is paired with Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price or even George Horne at half back. He feels he has stepped up into a leadership role.

“I’ve tried to lead a lot more in attack, tried to have more of an input on how we play,” said Russell. “That can be at half-time, chatting to boys, or during the week, building up to the game.

“Gregor knows he can trust me,” the fly half added. “He knows I’m not going to try something THAT crazy. Unless we need to! I’m not writing that off just yet.”


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Alongside his one-time Glasgow Warriors team-mate Stuart Hogg, Russell can expect some rough treatment out in the Far East. He doesn’t “mind that”. “Boys are going to try to fly up and get me,” he says. “That creates a gap in the defence. So I’m happy with that. I’m confident enough in my own skill set that I think I’ll be able to get the ball away, get it through my hands, make the right decision – the majority of times, I think – on what’s best to do.

“What is the worst example? I remember two summers ago, in Australia, I kicked a long ball – and Michael Hooper just smacked me off the ball! It doesn’t really bother me though, I kind of laugh about it. That’s part of rugby, in my opinion. I actually find it quite funny. If they’re having to target you that much, you’re obviously doing something right.”

Perhaps it is that French air, but Russell is too happy-go-lucky to dwell on those mis-steps in 2015, when Bernard Foley’s errantly-awarded penalty deprived Scotland of a place in the last four of the Rugby World Cup.

“It just wasn’t meant to be, I suppose," he said. "These things happen, that’s sport. The one thing you learn over the years is that the bounce of ball isn’t going to go your way every time.

“It’s always going to be there, the memory of what happened. But I’m not going to use it as fuel for this World Cup. There’s been a lot of rugby since then.”

That 2015 group under Vern Cotter were a strong unit but there is evidence that the class of 2019 may have even more going for them. “We’ve got a great balance, a lot of boys who played in the last Rugby World Cup four years ago,” he said. “So that’s great experience to draw on.

“We’ve also got young boys like Darcy Graham coming through. He’s a real spark for us. So we have youth and experience, all still young enough – still young and fit! I think we’ve got a great team. And you can tell there’s a good vibe.”