FINN Russell is an exuberant character on and off the field, but on Saturday he showed he can also run a game in a more sober, unspectacular fashion. The Glasgow Warriors stand-off’s performance in his team’s 17-0 win over Edinburgh may not have been the kind of showy display that has earned him a big money move to Racing 92 next season, but it was none the less effective for being understated.
The No 10’s outing was all the more impressive because, after being on the bench for his team’s previous two games, he might have been tempted to force things in a bid to make a statement. Instead, he showed exactly the kind of patience that Glasgow had lacked in their loss to Edinburgh a week earlier, calmly going through the phases to build good field position.
You would never want Russell to lose the ebullience which is such an important part of the way he plays, but his ability to play in a more understated manner is a sign of developing maturity in the 25-year-old. That maturity was just as much in evidence after the match at Scotstoun, as he insisted that, despite having been left out of the starting line-up in favour of Peter Horne over the previous fortnight, he did not feel like he had a point to prove in the second 1872 Cup match of the season.
“Peter had a game against Montpellier and he played really well, so he got a game last week and I got a game this week,” Russell insisted. “It’s the sport we’re in. It doesn’t matter what position you play in, a guy will come in and if he does well he deserves the spot the following week. I was lucky to get the game this week.
“You don’t go out there thinking you have a point to prove. You don’t want to over-play it and try and force things – you go out there and try and play your best.”
Judged by their own high standards, Glasgow were some way short of their best, but the crucial difference from seven days previously was that they were far tighter where it mattered most. The defensive effort was more coherent, denying Edinburgh the advantage in the maul that had been so critical at Murrayfield, and the attack was patient and measured, as Russell went on to say.
“The forwards were good. We managed to build phases. They got us into the positions we wanted. The driving maul went well, the scrum was good, the set piece decent and our pick and go was good.
“We gave away a few penalties in the first half when we were down in their 22 that we’ll want to tighten up on. Grinding out a game like that is always pleasing. If you run away with games you can take it for granted almost.
“It’s different when you’re in a game the whole way – and remember, it was just 3-0 at half-time. I felt the whole game we were in control and could score a few tries, but we managed to grind it out and do what we had to do.
“Keeping Edinburgh to nil was pretty impressive defensively from the boys. They went to the corner when we were ahead. When we were six, nine points ahead they had to start chasing the game and couldn’t go for the posts. The defensive efforts won us the game today.”
The biggest potential threat to Glasgow’s dominance was the unscheduled break two minutes before half-time after a fire alarm forced the ground to be evacuated. In the end the total break was just a little over half an hour, including a break for the interval, but at first there was uncertainty about what was going on and whether the game would be able to resume. Instead of dwelling on such things, however, Russell and his team-mates ensured they stayed focus – an attitude that paid off in the second half as the stand-off scored three more penalties to add to his early first-half effort before winger Lee Jones wrapped up the win with the only try of the game.
“The only point I made after that break was that mentally we were switched on. You might cool down a bit more cos it’s 10 minutes longer than a normal half-time, but we did a quick warm-up and we were good to go. For us it was making sure we were ready mentally rather than physically, because the body was fine to go and mentally we couldn’t switch off.
“There was chat that depending how long the break was we may not go back on. There were a few things going through our heads, the biggest being that mentally we had to be switched on.”