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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell – it’s still complicated…

Finn Russell (left) and head coach Gregor Townsend in conversation during last year's Six Nations.
Finn Russell (left) and head coach Gregor Townsend in conversation during last year's Six Nations.

Finn Russell was at the indoor running track tunnel under Murrayfield’s West Stand that serves as the media mixed zone after Saturday’s cathartic crushing of Warren Gatland’s Wales, explaining himself.

Sort of.

Asked to assess the state of his current relationship with Gregor Townsend – which has broken down at least twice before – Finn was pretty honest.

“Since November, Gregor and I have kept in touch, we’ve kept that relationship good,” he said. “It’s easy (now), but it can fall apart quickly.”

Excuse me, what? 10 journalists simultaneously did a double-take.

“If that makes sense,” he quickly added.

I suppose it does. Given past evidence, the relationship between the head coach and the star stand-off is a complicated thing that probably is only understood by the two men themselves. And even they are not understanding the same thing.

They’re on the same page right now, and at the moment Russell, helped by a system which allows him to thrive, is flying. We, and Townsend, are just enjoying the ride.

An unprecedented scoring rate

With Finn in his current mood, Scotland have an attacking scheme which makes them, bar none, the most efficient scoring unit in world rugby.

The Scots are averaging over four points per visit to the 22 in this Six Nations. And they’ve been scoring at this rate for almost a year now.

In the nine tests since the end of the 2022 Six Nations, Scotland have scored 35 tries. Yes, 35. And just six of them have been scored by forwards.

Since the autumn, George Turner (twice) and Matt Fagerson (from wide out on the wing, on Saturday) are the only forwards to score tries.

For veteran Scottish observers, this is unprecedented.

I had to go to YouTube to call up a game from the Andy Robinson era just to remind myself how Scotland always laboured to score with ball in the opposition 22. Watching Wales at the weekend was very much like watching Scotland 2008-12.

It still beggars belief that just 15 weeks ago Russell wasn’t even in the Scotland squad, and his relationship with Townsend seemed irreparable.

Gregor has taken all the flak for that decision, and the swift backtracking after just two weeks of the autumn. Why was that?

Well, maybe the decision to leave Finn out wasn’t all his.

There’s been a change in hierarchy within the Scotland squad this year. Stuart Hogg relinquished the captaincy to Jamie Ritchie.

There’s been a very slight generational shift there. Ritchie’s contemporaries in the squad are the players who came through the Under-20s with him – the Fagersons, Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Scott Cummings, Adam Hastings – and those who he’s played with since he was 17 at Edinburgh, notably the influential vice-captain Grant Gilchrist.

It’s a different circle to the ‘boys’ group that previous led the team – Hogg, Russell, Ali Price. ‘The Stars’, if you like.

‘Not so much in the meeting room’

Finn is his own man, we know that well enough. Townsend hinted at something that illustrated this when I asked him on Saturday about Russell being more animated in the in-game huddles recently than I’d noticed before.

“The huddle is where he thrives, and in the changing room,” said Townsend. “Not so much in the meeting room.

“Out there when he feels something, or a play that he wants, he gives the feedback to the players. That’s what he’ll lead the team in terms of attack.”

In other words, Finn’s not one for the flipboard tactical assessment on a Wednesday after training. Like a lot of genius sportspeople, he’s a ‘feel’ player.

Perhaps Finn’s disdain of homework, allied to the fact he was out of shape and clearly mentally fatigued in the spring, was what forced a cumulative decision to take a different path.

Tuipulotu’s influence in the new plan

But after five games in the summer and the autumn, Townsend accepted that without Finn – especially a happy and fit Finn with domestic stability –  Scotland aren’t going anywhere.

And what we see now is a compromise and the new plan. The clever footballing skills of Sione Tuipulotu help give Russell as much space and time on the ball as possible.

The other week Eddie Jones opined – as Eddie often does – that the conflict between Finn and Gregor stemmed from reflected jealousy on Gregor’s part relating to his own playing days.

I don’t buy that. Gregor is proud of his career, but he never hesitates to say “ancient history” when asked about his own time.

I do recall 1999, his best year in my opinion, when John Leslie arrived on the scene and freed him up to be his creative best. That was the best attacking Scotland team I ever saw, until this last fortnight.

Maybe the Russell and Tuipulotu combination is the same sort of thing a quarter of a century on? That would be nice.

Dan’s onfield wobbly showed who was really under pressure

Welsh stand-off Dan Biggar’s comments about Scotland before the game on Saturday were amusingly Eddie-lite. And like many of the barbs of our favourite Australian, they were probably directed at his own dressing room rather than Scotland’s.

Anyway, they blew up on the always-chippy Biggar’s face. And an illustration of just how wound up he was came only 12 minutes into Saturday’s game.

The demonstrative and public wobbly he gave Rio Dwyer after the young wing threw him an eminently catchable pass in his own 22 was actually outrageous from a senior player.

The kid was winning his fifth cap, and played like his heart was in his boots the rest of the way.

We’ve since learned there’s some fairly serious internal issues in the Welsh camp and players are threatening to strike. Charitably, one hopes this was a main factor behind Dan’s histrionics.