It is not just Scottish rugby fans who are pleased to see Finn Russell back in the international frame ahead of Sunday’s Murrayfield clash against New Zealand.

Richie Mo’unga – the All Blacks playmaker who could very well end up playing directly opposite the talismanic Scotsman this weekend – says he was delighted to hear that his old pal had been called into Gregor Townsend’s Autumn Test Series squad on Monday as a replacement for the injured Adam Hastings.

He has no doubt that the presence of Russell in the home line-up will make Scotland a more unpredictable and dangerous proposition, but the New Zealand mindset is that you need to play and beat the best if you want to be the best – and as far as the 43-times capped Mo’unga is concerned, Russell occupies a position at the very pinnacle of the game.

“I love Finn,” he states – without hesitation – as soon as Russell’s name is mentioned. “The last couple of years he has been my favourite ten in the world. He is someone who can play any type of game, with his kicking, his running and his passing.

“I met him early on when he was in Christchurch and we played each other at club level so we go way back,” he adds. “To see him since then become the player he is now is awesome. I know how awesome he is as a player and a top bloke as well.”

HeraldScotland: Finn Russell in trainingFinn Russell in training (Image: SNS)

When asked who came out on top when the two players lined up against each other back in 2013 (during Russell’s season in New Zealand as part of Scottish Rugby’s Macphail Scholarship programme), Mo’unga replied: “He did. He played for what was basically a Lincoln which was everyone who goes to Lincoln University. He had [experienced Super Rugby players] Robbie Fruean outside him and Jordan Taufua in the back row, and he put on a show – as he had done all year.

“We were out in the sticks at Christchurch, but we definitely knew when he arrived that the sky was the limit for him in terms of what he could do.

“We were both in the IHPU – the international high-performance unit – at Canterbury and he has good chat, he’s funny. I went to a Scottish school in Christchurch so we had a really good link before we even met. To see him grow as a player, and the confidence and flair that he has which separates him from any other ten, has been great.”

When asked if the potential involvement of Russell will change the way the All Blacks approach Sunday’s match, Mo’unga expertly side-steps his way out of giving away any trade secrets by launching into another Russell rhapsody.

“For me there is probably more excitement that I could have a match-up against him,” says the 28-year-old. “I’d like to play against him because I’m all for admiring great players. Some people have a style of play that I admire more than others and he’s probably one.

“You don’t have to say too much about him because his highlights reel speaks for itself. The way that he plays is just something that I enjoy watching.

“I just think he has a lot of tools in his toolbox that he can pull out at any time of the game. He is a smooth customer, very balanced and composed. I think it will benefit Scotland hugely having him in camp even if he’s not playing. Having him around will lift the team.”

New Zealand arrive in Edinburgh off the back of a 55-23 demolition of Wales last Saturday and the All Blacks have never lost a Test match against Scotland in 31 meetings so far, but the theme of yesterday’s press activity was very much centred on the team not getting ahead of themselves.

“We are really grounded in terms of last week’s performance ,” stressed Mo’unga. “We’ve left the Principality Stadium and moved on to the next job. We know the challenges of being here, how tough it is and how important it is to be grounded again to give ourselves the best chance of back-to-back performances that we’re proud of.

“We just had a review of things that I and the team could have done better against Wales, so we are pretty happy but know that it is really important for us to reset and look at new opportunities in the challenges ahead.”


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