What defines a great player? There are many attributes but perhaps above all else is the ability to put in an excellent performance when you’re under pressure or are after receiving widespread criticism for being below your best.
Finn Russell would have been disappointed with the two displays he put in against Wales and France in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations and criticism was justified. However, on the other side of the coin, he must be lauded and praised for bouncing back against England at Murrayfield on Saturday evening.
Eddie Jones referred to Russell as a world-class player in the build-up to the Calcutta Cup clash, whether this was genuine or tongue in cheek is anyone’s guess but Russell delivered a stellar showing which guided his side to a historic victory.
There is no shortage of personal highlights for Russell throughout the 80 minutes but perhaps the pass he produced in the build-up to Sean Maitland’s try is the standout moment.
John Barclay had produced a massive turnover for his side to win a penalty as George Ford was pinged by Nigel Owens for holding on. The home side decided to take it quickly and the ball fell to Peter Horne who was put back a few metres in the tackle.
This made Russell’s impending pass all that more impressive because Scotland were under pressure and England’s defensive line had more time to set due to Joe Launchbury’s impressive tackle.
It took time for Greg Laidlaw to get the ball out of the ruck but he found Jonny Gray who then passed to Russell who put in an absolutely glorious pass to the onrushing Huw Jones.
Not only is the distance and accuracy of the pass impressive but it also had the required height and pace to take out Jonathan Joseph and Jonny May. The ball lands right in between a narrow pocket of space between those two English players and kudos must be given to Jones for running into the gap at pace.
Russell wasn’t done there, however. The fly-half then provided the assist for Maitland to go over in the corner a few phases later after Jones’ initial break.
Again, Russell does brilliantly here to produce an accurate pass while being under huge pressure from Ford and Maro Itoje – so many times we see players in this situation produce a forward pass but not in this instance.
Here’s another angle of Russell’s first pass which deserves another look.
It was a great performance by a great player and Ireland will have to keep a close eye on the 25-year-old when Scotland come to Dublin in less than two weeks time.
Finally, it’s the sign of a great player when he can still produce such highly-skilled moments under massive pressure when his confidence must have taken a huge dent over the last few weeks.