IT would be easy to paint Finn Russell as a daft Scottish laddie abroad – Oor Wullie visits Paris – when he replies to a question about whether he has managed to visit the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or any of the city’s other great tourist attractions (since joining Racing 92 during the summer) with a simple: ‘Nope.’
But that wouldn’t be fair to the 26-year-old playmaker, who will wear the number ten jersey for Scotland against South Africa on Saturday. His reasoning for this lack of cultural curiosity reveals a level of maturity and dedication to his craft which is often camouflaged by his generally happy-go-lucky demeanour.
“Because you live there, you can do it whenever you want, so it’s different,” he explains. “I’m there to work, I’m there to do my job. If my friends are over for the weekend, then they are there for a holiday and to see these things, but I am there to do my job.
“If I have a game at the weekend I don’t tend to go into Paris too much because if I end up walking around sightseeing for the whole day I’ll tire myself out. I’ve done it a couple of times and ended up tired for the game.”
There is no doubt that moving to France was a big step for a player who had previously spent his entire professional career with Glasgow Warriors, where he and the team had grown-up together and were almost hard-wired to the same rugby philosophy. Living alone in a foreign land, where you are trying to assimilate into a new team and don’t know the language, is bound to take some getting used to – and it is clear that he is still adjusting to his new life – but Russell is one of life’s optimists and is clearly determined to embrace the experience.
While he is not quite yet applying that same sense of adventure we are used to seeing from him on the rugby field to his new home life in Paris, he is relaxed about having a more low-key existence.
“In France, we train hard and it is quite long days, so usually when I get home there are only a few hours before I go out to get food,” he says. “I still eat out most nights to try and speak a little bit of French and even hear it.
“I kind of went through a phase where I just sat in, watched TV or played Play Station and ordered food in, but then I thought I better start going out again. I thought about cooking but by the time I go out and buy all the bits I need I might as well just go out and eat – it costs like 18 Euros for food, and if I buy it in and don’t use it then it’s a waste.
“The [Scotland] boys are having a laugh and asking me how many baguettes I am eating, but it is just the lifestyle over there. My diet has changed a lot, I think I eat a lot more bread and pasta over there, but maybe not so many sweets – except before a game! My weight has not actually gone up, it has come down, so I must be doing something right.
Russell shared a flat with his sister, Jessie, and his old half-back partner in crime, Ali Price, back in Glasgow, but is now getting used to a more solitary existence.
“I think it is good getting my own space,” he says. “Back in Glasgow, there was always people in the flat with Ali, my wee sister and Emma [his girlfriend] being there most nights, and I like being with people, but at the same time it is good to get my own space, and just be able to do what I want to do.
“I think for my career it has been beneficial because if one night I am tired and don’t want to do anything I can just chill out and not worry about anything.
“We get French lessons twice a week at the club which is really good,” he adds. “I am in the beginners’ group, and then there’s boys who have been there for a year or more who are in the advanced group.
“I can speak probably more than I can understand. I have come on a lot since going over there, which is good, but it will take a while. Speaking to a few boys who have been there for a six or seven seasons, they say it took them a few years to be able to speak it and understand it fluently – but it is good fun trying to learn.
“It is just a different stage of life just now, but I am enjoying it, and it is good for my career because I can just worry about me and what I need to do to get right for the weekend. I don’t feel lonely. I’m getting used to it – I’m doing fine.”
The language barrier has not only affected Russell’s lifestyle, he has had to adapt his game as well.
“I had to establish myself, and I still am trying to establish myself properly, but I think a lot of that is to do with the language,” he says. “I can’t always get my point across like I want because the little bits of French I can speak to them is very basic. It is tough.
“For me, as a rugby player, I have stripped things back and am just making sure I do my basics well like my passing and kicking, which kind of makes it easier for the other boys to feed off me.
“I am still settling in terms of being the guy who controls the whole team, and I think they are still getting used to me and the way I like to play. If I start to do things I might have done at Glasgow without thinking then they might not be ready for it, so I’m having to make sure I really do the basics well … as well as bring a little bit of fun.”
We got a taste of this more measured Russell last Saturday, and Scotland can only benefit from their chief playmaker becoming a more rounded all-round player – so long as he can always retain a decent measure of that natural exuberance which makes him such a compelling character both on and off the park.