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England travel to Murrayfield next Saturday having beaten Scotland just once in their last six close games.
This shift in the balance of power between the two countries has coincided with the emergence of Finn Russell as one of the world’s great playmakers; a genius in the number 10 shirt who can change games with remarkable acts of witchcraft.
The Bath flyhalf is now 31 years old, co-captain of his country and at the peak of his powers, so Steve Borthwick and his Red Rose team are fully aware of the threat he will pose in Edinburgh, in the Third round of the Six Nations. .
Here, some of those who know him give insight into what makes Russell a master of the oval ball…
Finn Russell will pose a major threat to England next Saturday when Steve Borthwick’s side travel to face Scotland at Murrayfield.
Curiously, Russell’s emergence has coincided with the statistic that England have only beaten Scotland once in their last six meetings.
The flyhalf, who joined Bath in the summer from Racing 92, is known for being one of the most exciting number 10s in the world.
Mail Sport columnist and Lions teammate
‘With Finn, on paper, our personalities seem to be very different. But having toured with him with the British & Irish Lions in 2021, I don’t think he gets enough credit for the preparation he does.
“When we were together in South Africa, he was always looking at the laptop before games.
‘I was amazed at the attention to detail he put into that tour. You’d probably expect that from guys like Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton.
“Maybe some people wouldn’t see Finn as that type of player, but I can assure you he is.
Mail Sport columnist Dan Biggar said Russell doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the preparation he does.
Biggar (left) and Russell toured together on the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa
‘Fans watching the Six Nations will see his brilliant passing and attacking play and his small movements. He is also very relaxed on the field. He’s always had that in the locker.
“He’s clearly always been an extremely talented player.
“But talent only takes you so far and it’s clear how much he’s worked hard and improved his game over the last two years.
“I really liked an interview I saw him give the other day in which he said that this Scottish team is under a bit of pressure to go and win something.
“I thought it was refreshingly honest of him to say that they probably hadn’t achieved enough and he knows time is running out for a good group of Scottish players.
“It was another sign of his growing leadership, which was reflected in his appointment as Scotland co-captain.”
One word that sums it up?
‘Exciting. There is no doubt that he is an exciting player.
“Players like Finn and Marcus Smith are the ones the fans want to see.”
Former Scotland captain and half-back partner
‘Finn is very relaxed before games and doesn’t get nervous when he plays. If he makes a mistake, he just ignores it.
“He’s not arrogant, but he has a lot of confidence in himself and that’s probably why he is the player he is, because he just backs himself.” That self-confidence spreads to the people around him. He certainly gave me that confidence playing alongside him in a Scotland shirt.
“Another great thing about him is that he wants the ball all the time, even if he just made a mistake.
Former Scotland defender teammate Greg Laidlaw (left) claimed Russell was “not cocky” but had “so much self-confidence” that it rubbed off on the rest of the team.
Laidlaw stated that he “is a special player”, telling a funny anecdote of Russell riding a racing bike around the team room.
“He has a constant drive to put pressure on teams and keep playing his game, no matter what the result is.”
‘When it’s really “on”; Seeing things, catching passes and making escapes, other teams get scared. He has it all: the kick pass, the ability to play around teams and the ability to make contact and offload. That’s what his defenses fear.
‘He’s a fun character. One time we were in Australia, we had had a long trip and we had to go to the team room for a meeting.
“All the players were arriving, and the next thing that showed up was Finn on this racing bike and started biking around the team room with this random helmet.
‘There are so many stupid and funny stories when you think back. He’s one of the guys, he likes to have fun and knows when to switch off from rugby.”
One word that sums it up?
‘Special. He is a special player. We don’t produce many special players in Scotland, but he is special. There you go; He’s the Special One!’
He trained Russell at Racing 92 last season
“Nothing is too stressful for him, but he’s not so relaxed that it seems like he doesn’t care.” I love watching him play. He is always trying to push the limits and stretch the players around him, taking them with him. He believes in himself and his natural eye-hand ability and game sense are phenomenal.
‘He is an instinctive player. I remember being in Spain with him last year, watching him pick up a racket and play padel without stress, simply using his hand-eye skills and placing the ball in the right areas where the opponents weren’t.
Former Gloucester coach Rory Teague worked with Russell during his time at Racing 92
Teague stated that Russell “is the best 10 in the world” and “has dominated rugby”
Teague also praised Russell as a “wizard” and added that the 31-year-old is paving the way for future starts.
‘He has dominated the game of rugby. I think he is among the top 10 in the world and has a real drive to be the best, without showing it outwardly. Finn is definitely not left without a manual, but I think he is creating his own for the future, for fly-halpes. He is the best because he does it his way. I don’t think he gets stressed about what other people do. He focuses on what he can do.
‘He is his own man. When I arrived at Racing last season, the staff was bothered that I trained with my laces undone. We’d laugh and I’d say, “Come on, Finn, check the box, tie your shoelaces,” so he’d tie his shoelaces and tie a double knot. Some of the younger guys had started copying him by training with their laces undone, then when Finn laced his boots, they tied their boots too.
One word that sums it up?
Russell Trainers in Bath
“It is unique in many ways. He has some incredible attributes such as his passing speed, the speed with which he can put the ball on his foot to kick and the variety of his kicking game. As a coach, you can design any play you want (and be as creative as you want) because he has the ability to execute it.
‘In terms of how he relates to the team, his biggest strength is his calmness. It makes no one panic if mistakes are made. On his first start for the club, at Saracens, from our first lineout, Finn was attacked and they scored. For the next 20 minutes he was unplayable. We scored three great tries and Finn continued to attack the line. He showed that when you make a mistake, you have to move on and make your next job very good. That’s what he did. He was outstanding.
Bath coach Lee Blackett (right) said Russell has some “incredible attributes” which make him a “unique” player.
He also recounted when Russell silenced the Shed at Kingsholm, calling him “cheeky”.
“Opposing teams try to pressure him, but the more they do it and jump (off the defensive line) as individuals, the more he can beat them.” It will be a big test for England’s new defensive system when they play against him. This is a guy who can beat you with his aerial game or his short kicks, if you get too close or too close.’
One word that sums it up?
‘Cool! When we played Kingsholm she ended up running in front of the Shed with her finger on her lips. Gloucester fans loved him because he did it with a cheeky smile on his face. Imagine if Owen Farrell had done that: he wouldn’t have left Gloucester! “But Finn Russell did it and everyone asked him for his autograph after the game.”