Finn Russell has started the 2023 Guinness Six Nations at his majestic best.
A quietly efficient performance sprinkled with stardust against England was followed by a Player of the Match display which helped Scotland inflict a 35-7 defeat on Wales at BT Murrayfield.
The fly-half has been crucial to his country’s best start to a Championship since 1996 and will be relishing the chance to strut his stuff in Paris, where the locals know all about his threat, in Round 3.
But what have been the key factors behind this run of form? Russell gave a few clues deep in the bowels of BT Murrayfield on Saturday evening…
It is easy to forget, with Russell in this form and clearly enjoying his rugby, that he started the 2022 Autumn Nations Series out the Scotland squad.
His relationship with Gregor Townsend has been an up-and-down one over the years but since being re-introduced to the fold later in November, the pair have been singing from the same hymn sheet.
“When he asked me about coming back in when Hasto [Adam Hastings] got injured, I said I was keen but needed to chat to him about a few things,” Russell said.
“It wasn’t a case of clearing the air, it was more just a case of us being honest with each other as to his game plan and how he wants things to be run, then me having my input.
“The best thing is both of us being on the same page and that allows us to play how we are.”
The pair have kept in regular touch since the end of the autumn to plot Guinness Six Nations plans and Scotland are now reaping the rewards.
“There have been a few changes and we get on better than we ever have done off the field, not just chatting about rugby all the time either,” he said.
“He’s allowed me to be me, which is great, and I’ve matured a little bit.”
ADDED OFF-FIELD RESPONSIBILITY
November was a big month for Russell on and off the field, with partner Emma giving birth to the couple’s first daughter.
He credited the added responsibility as crucial to the displays he is now putting in, with the 30-year-old now having plenty more to occupy him than worrying about his next offload or kick at goal.
“Becoming a father wasn’t the biggest thing, it was finding out my partner was pregnant,” he said.
“That gave me a new responsibility straight away, which helped. For most of the last four-and-a-half years, I’ve been in Paris on my own.
“My partner moved out there after last year’s Six Nations and having someone there day in, day out has helped me, probably without me knowing it.
“The new responsibility is a big factor in how I’m playing now and probably what I needed. Before, I was coming up for 30, living in Paris, doing what I wanted.”
Saturday’s match marked the first time Russell’s daughter was in the stands and the fly-half put on a performance to savour, setting up three tries and controlling the tempo at BT Murrayfield to guide Scotland to their biggest-ever points victory over Wales.
“It was special to have her here and to play well was really pleasing,” he added.
KEEPING THE FLAIR
Russell may have matured but he has not lost any of the freedom which makes him such a magnetic player to watch.
He remains willing to take risks in search of openings and at times, his answers to questions can mimic that approach to an attack – expect the unexpected.
That was the case on Saturday evening when asked to reflect on the offload which set Kyle Steyn up for the first of his two tries – the second also laid on by Russell.
“I actually enjoyed the pass to Blair [Kinghorn] in the first half more,” he said.
“The winger came up, so to get the pass in front of him and create a two-on-one was more pleasing to me as a 10, even though we ultimately didn’t score from it.
“The one to Kyle was an offload – they are the easy bit.”