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Finn Russell’s chilled nature hides a steely focus

Finn Russell.
Finn Russell.

You shouldn’t mistake Finn Russell’s relaxed vibe for a lack of focus, he warns as he leads Scotland into the kind of away challenge they’ve struggled to deal with Georgia this weekend.

The mercurial stand-off is one of the only players in the Scotland squad who has experience of playing in the Caucasus, in a pre-season tournament for his club Racing 92 at this time last year, when they played two games against international opposition.

That was just the start of a strong first season for Russell with the Parisian club, but there’s been no change in style as yet. It’s still headphones on during warm-up, and seemingly like he hasn’t a care in the world – but don’t be fooled.

“I am chilled, as you can probably tell, but it can be focused at the same time,” he said. “I know my role and what needs to get done when it comes to the game.

“Off the field I’m very chilled out and even in my build-up to the game you will see me with headphones on, listening to music, just kind of doing my own thing.

“Everyone is different in how they prepare and get ready for games, but I’ve always been like that. When I was younger, maybe coaches would think I didn’t care or that I was having a laugh and a joke, but it’s just what I’m like.

“Some guys get wound-up, some are like Pete Horne who is chilled but has everything just right because he is an incredible professional.

“I’m just slightly different. I do it my own way.”

When Russell plays with an “enabler” like Greig Laidlaw or Horne, or finds a kindred spirit like Ali Price or Simon Zebo at Racing, he feels at his most comfortable.

“With the language, I won’t speak as much in training in France as I do here,” he said. “Maybe the longer I am there the more I can speak and I’ll start to find out if it is different.

“But guys there can be relaxed too. Zeebs is very chilled out and I get on with him well. We can have a laugh on the pitch as well as playing.”

From that perspective, he can also understand the decision of Richie Gray to opt out of the World Cup.

“Richie had a long season with Toulouse, has just come back from injury – I think it was his hip that he had issues with – and I think it was about June 15 that they played the Top14 final.

“If he came straight back in he could put himself at risk, not just for the World Cup but for the next season and the rest of his career. I think that might have been a factor for him.

“He also had a baby not that long ago so he has a lot going on I think, on and off the field, so I understand his decision not to be involved.”

Russell agreed he was “a little rusty” on Saturday against France, but came on to a game as it progressed.

“Their second try this gold came from a simple dropped ball I had, one that I would expect to catch,” he said. “A few kicks of mine were maybe not the most accurate or the best and I probably kicked more than normal as well.

“But it was my first game for a couple of months and it was good to get out there and have a hit out. There is still a lot for myself and the team to work on.”

The task in Tbilisi is to try at least partly iron out the issues Scotland appear to have away from Murrayfield, especially with a month of away games to be played in Japan coming up.

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say what it is,” he said. “Looking at the games in the 6 Nations, the first half against England wasn’t good but the second half was. We were away from home for both halves, so how can it change that much?

“It could be a mental thing, I’m not sure, it could be a belief thing. Hopefully we will be able to change it this weekend. When we go to Japan all the teams, apart from Japan, are away from home so it will be different over there.

“Georgia are a really good team and if we can get a good performance and a win we can then look back and work out what we did differently during the week, or individually in the build-up to the game, to get ourselves in the right headspace going into the next game.”