Consistency the key to No.10 for Russell and Scotland

Finn Russell runs in to score a try 16/3/2019
Finn Russell and Scotland’s fates go hand in hand.

Finn Russell and Scotland’s fates go hand in hand.

Never was that more clear than in the final game of this year’s Guinness Six Nations and THAT Calcutta Cup comeback.

Off-colour in the first half, and yet vibrant in the second – Russell and Scotland showed all their strengths and most of their weaknesses in a performance for the ages.

But if the No.10 is firing on all cylinders, Scotland can beat absolutely anyone in world rugby – of that there is no doubt.

Consistency will be the key if Gregor Townsend’s side are to make a real impact in Japan this autumn at the Rugby World Cup.

Russell’s growing maturity as Scotland’s main man is starting to bear fruit.

The move to France to Racing 92 has forced the stand-off to grow up both on and off the field and brought the best out of him.

Just ask Greig Laidlaw who has kept a close eye in the Top 14 himself.

“Finn has been excellent for Racing, the French really like and understand what kind of player he is,” he said of his international teammate.

“They know he is really dangerous and that, given license, he’ll cut teams open.

“You can see the way he’s been working with other quality players like Simon Zebo, creating a lot of opportunities for his team to score tries.

“He’s done really well and it’s been an excellent learning curve for him as we ll.

“The last bits of Finn’s game is the game management, putting teams under pressure at different times, I think he’ starting to tick those boxes now as well.”

Throw in the emergence of Adam Hastings as a viable alternative and the ingredients have combined to help take Russell to the next level.

In that first half at Twickenham, no Scotland player was blameless for their capitulation into a 31-0 hole against England.

But Russell will be the first to admit he was probably more to blame than others.

He fired kicks out on the full, missed touch with penalties and invited a blooming Red Rose attack onto them.

However, when the chips are down and he can release his full attacking arsenal – there is no-one better at going for broke.

And while Scotland will be delighted to have a man like Russell who can bring a team back from the dead and create something from nothing, it is probably asking too much to do that week in and week out.

If you want to go deep in a World Cup, you have to grind out some close games, manage the clock and the scoreboard and put pressure back onto you opponents rather than invite it onto yourself.

If Russell can add that final piece of the jigsaw to his game, and he showed signs of it for Racing 92 as well this season, then Scotland are looking good.

Managing a game is hard when you are in the front line.

Few fly-halves stand flatter than Russell and as a result, few get hit harder. But amidst the maelstrom there are few who can match his mercurial talents.

Just ask England who have been cut apart by him twice in the last 18 months.

The passing range, off either hand, is extraordinary.

He hit Huw Jones with a peach off his left at BT Murrayfield last year and then did the same to Sean Maitland at Twickenham this year.

But he can beat you inside as well as on the outside, Nathan Hughes and Manu Tuilagi were done by a delightful head feint and no-look pass to Sam Johnson this year as well.

Have we mentioned he can offload as well? The one from the floor against Ireland earlier this year will live long in the memory.

Throw in his short kicking game that created scores all season long for Racing 92 and cut Italy apart in the Guinness Six Nations, and Russell has so many ways to beat you.

The kicking game in defence and clearing the line is often left to Stuart Hogg’s howitzer, and the touch-finder is probably still a work in progress for Russell who sometimes tries to bite off more than he can chew.

But the deft grubber for Teddy Thomas in the Champions Cup knockout rounds is proof of what he can offer when on song.

Defensively, Russell is never going to be the heaviest hitter.

Ellis Genge shrugged him off in that first half in the lead-up to Joe Launchbury’s try as Scotland threatened to implode.

But, in the second half, Russell fronted up and is learning to influence in defence in other ways if he cannot put in almighty shots like a Jonny Wilkinson or an Owen Farrell.

His eye for the intercept is approaching deadly status.

He has picked off Joey Carbery and Owen Farrell in this year’s Championship, both of which led to Scotland scores, and did the same for Racing in the quarter-final clash with Toulouse in the build-up to Thomas’ score.

But he is not just flying out of the and neglecting his defensive duties.

Russell’s bravery is beyond question, he played the Calcutta Cup clash with a fractured cheek bone and yet still made seven tackles for his side.

Not much flusters Russell, and after emerging unscathed through the end of the Top 14 campaign, Townsend can start to build a World Cup campaign around his brilliant No.10.