On Saturday evening Scotland made history, and the Lions’ latest tourist Finn Russell was right in the midst of it.
The Scots have jetted Down Under just twelve times since 1970, and on nine of those occasions the hosts have won. Before Saturday’s game Scotland had won just two matches in Australia; once in 1982 and another back in 2012.
Given the visitors were already robbed of some of their core players to injury or the Lions, this makes the 24-19 win all the more impressive.
It was also new coach Gregor Townsend’s second match in charge after a powerful victory over Italy in Singapore last weekend.
Yet although Townsend must take some of the credit for this wonderful result for Scottish rugby, much of it must lie at the door of former coach Vern Cotter and the excellent close-knit group of players he moulded during his time in charge. One such individual is fly-half Finn Russell.
Scotland have struggled to find a fly-half who is both reliable in defence and intelligent in attack. Previous wearers of the shirt such as Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir and Phil Godman were all solid enough but never quite proved to be the all-rounder needed to excel at the very top.
But in Finn Russell, Vern Cotter discovered someone who had risen through a revitalised Scottish age-grade set-up, who was becoming increasingly influential at Glasgow Warriors and seemed to possess a temperament and confidence that had eluded the previous incumbents.
And that’s what sets Russell apart from his antecedents: he has tremendous self-belief, which manifests itself in confident game management and vividly astute tactical awareness.
As well as Russell’s own personal development, there is no doubt that Scotland’s revival has occurred concurrently with Glasgow’s steady rise as a genuine force in Pro12 and European rugby. Runners up in the domestic league in 2014, champions in 2015 and third the following year, as well as quarter-finalists in the Champions Cup this year – the first time the side has reached the knockout stages in ten years – shows the improvements the team have made.
Coach Gregor Townsend plotted a new course with the club’s brand of rugby: investing time and resources into restoring a traditionally Scottish form of rugby that involves ‘heads up’, impulsive attacking intent built around a foundation of intelligent running lines and an array of set moves straight from the training paddock.
Put Russell together with his former club coach Townsend and suddenly you will see a Scotland side take Glasgow’s formula to the international stage.
Now Russell’s excellent form for club and country has been duly rewarded with a Lions call-up and rightly so. Many fans were questioning why he was not on the plane in the first place, but Saturday’s win over the Wallabies cemented his spot in the squad for the remainder of the tour.
And don’t be surprised to see the Glaswegian first five-eighth push his way into the reckoning for the Test series. With Russell controlling the back division for Scotland, the country has finally finished its search for a fly-half that can truly make them soar.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: champions cup, dan biggar, finn russell, fly-half, flyhalf, glasgow, glasgow warriors, glaswegian, gregor townsend, jonny sexton, Lions, owen farrell, pro12, Scotland, scotland rugby, Six Nations, vern cotter, warren gatland