After some uncharacteristic procrastination, Finn Russell eventually reaches the conclusion that Saturday’s World Cup Pool B showdown against Ireland is, indeed, going to be the biggest match of his career to date – but Scotland’s talismanic stand-off is quick to follow up with a promise that the magnitude of the occasion will not impede his natural swagger on the rugby pitch.

Scotland must beat Ireland by eight or more points to avoid being sent home before the following weekend’s quarter-finals. It is a formidable challenge against the No 1 ranked team in the world, who are on a 16-match winning streak against all-comers, and who are on an eight-match run of victories against Scotland stretching back to 2017.

The game is being played at Stade de France in Paris, with a capacity crowd of 80,000 expected, meaning that an electrifying atmosphere is on the cards – and Russell reckons that is exactly the sort of environment which inspires him to produce his best rugby.

“Maybe this one or the quarter-final against Australia in 2015,” he initially replies, when asked to rank the significance of this weekend’s match, before finally making up his mind.

“Right now, this game is the biggest because of everything around the World Cup and Ireland being the number one team in the world,” he asserted. “In terms of the whole situation around it, I think it’s great. 

“We just have to embrace the occasion as the week goes on, because on Saturday if we go to the stadium and get a bit shocked by what’s happening, that’s when we will get caught out.

“Ireland have probably played more bigger games than us and they’ve won bigger games than us as well. It’s something that we as players will address before the game, to see if people have other experiences they can share. The main thing is to enjoy it as a group of players. 

“It’s not often you go into a knock-out game against the number one team in the world at a World Cup so close to home that all your family and friends are going to be there. As big as it is, it’s going to be good fun.

“I wouldn’t say I get nervous,” he added. “I know the enormity of the game and know there is more pressure and more on the line, but that just makes me think I’ve got to have everything right. 

“For both teams it’s a massive game and this is why you play – to have these moments and these occasions.

“It’s a chance to show how good we can be as a team and as players. It’s the biggest stage in the world, so having a bit of swagger can be a good thing.”

Russell added that the big lesson he took from Scotland’s 18-3 loss to South Africa in their opening match of this campaign is the importance of playing his natural game rather than being side-tracked by the opposition and the occasion.
“Against South Africa I went the other way and was probably over-focused,” he explained. “I thought a lot about their blitz defence and what was going to come. I was almost looking more at their defence than what we could do in attack. This week it’s more about focusing on us, what we can do to put them under pressure and score points.
“Of course we will look at the Irish defence and attack but I’ll be more chatting to the boys outside me about what we are going to do. It’s about going after them, taking them on and having the confidence to do that.
“So, I’m trying to find a balance this week. We’ve got to be clear in our roles and what we have to achieve. We’ve done all the work, so now it’s just about going out there, enjoying yourself and executing.”
Russell will line-up directly opposite Ireland captain Johnny Sexton on Saturday night, who is a ferocious competitor and the key figure in managing his team's relentless attack strategy. He says he welcomes the challenge of neutralising the great man’s influence but promised that he won't let it become a distraction.

“I tend just to play my own game,” he said “There’s always going to be that individual battle going on, but I don’t intend to get caught up in that. At times, something might arise in the game, but it’s up to me to stick to my job and do what’s best for the team, [by] controlling the game. 

 “There might be some mouthing off here and there, maybe some words exchanged, but I wouldn’t expect anything else. That’s just how it is. In these sorts of games, you do anything you can to get one up on your opposite man or the opposition team.

"Words from him, not from me. Never from me!" he added with a wry smile. “And if we’ve got the momentum, you might get someone like Peter O’Mahony trying to start some kind of handbags, or it might be me trying a chip over the top or a crazy offload that just changes the picture.

"But I wouldn’t say we need to go over the top and put him [Sexton] off his stride or take him out. We just need to be aware of what he can do and how he can control the game.
“If we go all out to shut him down, it creates space elsewhere which is probably what they want. We’ve got a great defence, so we just need to stick to our system, have confidence in each other and keep doing what we have been doing.
“At times they are going to put us under pressure and get line-breaks, but it’s about how we stay together as a unit and stay in the moment, rather than us clocking off for a split second because that’s all it takes for them to get a try.
“Of course, they have great players, but we are backing ourselves and our defence against them.”