“One of the most skilful players ever”: Townsend heaps praise on Russell

Jamie Hodgson called up to training squad as cover for Jonny Gray

Gregor Townsend Finn Russell
Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell at a Scotland training session in November. Image: © Craig Watson www.craigwatson.co.uk

GREGOR TOWNSEND has acclaimed Finn Russell as one of the most gifted players of all time, and said the Racing 92 playmaker is only now approaching his peak. 

Speaking at the launch in London of this year’s Guinness Six Nations Championship, the Scotland coach went out of his way to heap praise on Russell, whose hopes of representing his country again looked in serious jeopardy late last year when he was left out of the squad for the Autumn Nations Series. An injury to Adam Hastings saw Russell recalled to the fold, and Townsend said the 30-year-old’s performances in the remaining games were exemplary.

“He’s one of the most skilful players to ever play the game – not just playing now, but to ever play the game,” Townsend said. “In that position you’ve got to take a big role in the leadership of the game, and that requires work and preparation – and Finn does that.

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“You’ve got to practise a lot of watching rugby, and experience rugby, to know when to pull the trigger. And there’s a lot of discipline that has to go into it, to make the decision whether to offload or to kick.

“People change as well throughout their rugby careers and their lives. You’re a different person at 20, 21 years old than you are at 30. Finn has had changes in life – he just became a dad for the first time.

“He’s coming into his prime years. He’s coming into that time where physically you’re still able to compete and do what you want to do, but you have that knowledge of ten years playing at No 10 and are aware of what a defence might look like after two or three phases.    

“So it’s a great opportunity for him – this championship, and obviously the World Cup too.”

In the autumn, Russell returned to the Scotland squad for the last two matches, the loss to New Zealand and the win over Argentina, and according to Townsend he hit his best form straight away. “Finn was outstanding in the autumn,” the coach added. “It was probably the best he’d played for Scotland in two or three years.  He played at a really high level against New Zealand and gave an even better performance against Argentina.

“He was great around the group, like he always is. He’s very good to work with. He’s now at a level of experience where he understands the game and what defences are going to do. 

“Physically, he’s in really good shape too. He had a week off for Racing over Christmas, which I think will help him during the Six Nations because he does play a lot of rugby over in France. He’ll be looking forward to the championship like we are.

“He’s a very competitive player, Finn, and this doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s a laid-back person and he’s even laid back on the field, but he’s competitive.”

Sitting next to his coach at the launch, Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie agreed that Russell was an easy person to work with, as well as being a very conscientious one when it comes to doing his homework on the opposition.  “I’d echo what Gregor said,” the Edinburgh forward stated. “He’s not a confrontational character, he’s not a controversial character. He’s a great person to have around, a great person for the young guys to learn from – for us all to learn from, in fact. 

“He’s really diligent in and around his analysis. He’s always on his laptop watching training back and watching the opposition we’ve got coming up, looking for opportunities. The stuff you see at the weekends doesn’t happen by accident. He’s a great guy for us to have around the squad.”

Scotland’s first game in the Six Nations is at Twickenham against England, who are under new management in Steve Borthwick. The former international lock is a very different character from Eddie Jones, the man he replaced as head coach, and Townsend suggested that difference would be evident in the team’s style of play.

“If you’re trying to predict what rugby they’re going to play, maybe it’s going to be a bit more simplified, because it’s a new coaching group and they’ve only got these four or five training sessions before we play them. There will be a big focus on the forwards, the set piece, maybe the maul.

“So we’ve got to be aware of that and match that, but also get our game into play, take our game to them. So we will be focused a lot on ourselves.”


  • Edinburgh second-row Jamie Hodgson has been called into Scotland’s Six Nations training squad with Jonny Gray remaining with his club, Exeter Chiefs, due to an ongoing medical issue.

Gregor Townsend says John Cooney could be called up during this Six Nations

About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. To be a good out-half you must be so comfortable with your skill set that it becomes secondary and the primary focus is on what is in front of you. That is the supreme skill, to see the landscape and to determine exactly where the best opportunity lies. Sexton has that in spades – he is the absolute best. Russell is now coming into that. The next few years, if Finn is free of injury, will be the best of his career.

  2. My goodness, what a lot of negativity !

    Of course we could decide it was just great man management, giving a slightly under-performing star a nudge, and voila he’s a star again …

    Anyway, as usual, really hoping for a great start to the 6N v England (and yes, I’m realistic enough to know it’s a long shot – having supported Scotland through more thin than thick over the last, can it really be ! 50 years )

    I have to add one other comment re Wales … oh do I hope Gatland’s second go is an unmitigated disaster. I think he single handedly destroyed my love for the Wales v Scotland encounter, not to mention the Lions ….

  3. His ego is even bigger than the huge ego we all thought he had if he thinks it is acceptable to come out with this statement. Once again total lack of empathy and people management skills from Townsend. He really needs to go to a place where they really want such a visionary rugby philosopher who has performed more hand brake turns than the late great Colin McRae.

  4. Most of us could have picked a Scottish team for the last two years but our coach couldn’t didn’t. This playing catch up rugby is not how to win games.

  5. Eventually, we may see an honest appraisal of Russell’s attitude, personality, behaviours and emotional intelligence!

  6. I wonder if other players and staff will be encouraged to come out with snappy soundbites (or outright hyperbole) given there is now a Netflix series being put together?

    • Too true, forgot about Netflix. We’ll hear phrases like hard work beats hardly working, blue sky thinking and fail to prepare then prepare to fail. Cue some shots of the weights room. Bring on the drinking bingo.

  7. Has anyone considered that it might have been due to his attitude rather than his undoubted ability that Russell was out of favour?

    • I am pretty sure there have been many players with “attitude” over the years. In fact I played with a few. But I still think you pick your best player. I think it is almost completely accepted that Finn is in the top 5 stand offs in the world, and should if fit always start for Scotland.

    • Always amusing to see people who have never met Finn pontificate about his attitude. They are totally oblivious to how ludicrous they sound to those who have encountered him. We could do with a lot more people in Scottish rugby with his ‘attitude’.

      • Always amusing to see people who have never met posters pontificate about their posts particularly when they aren’t bright enough to tell the difference between a suggestion and a personally held view.

  8. What must the players think of “this gobbledegook” (and the fastest rugby in the world and the 38-38 1st half)
    Alas the quicker GT leaves the better as I reckon any relative success we have is inspite of GTs presence

  9. I await with baited breath the follow up
    “I have had to use the man management skills I learn’t from Mr. Dodson saying that Finn was ranked 4th, it worked and he became the brilliant player I have identified today”.
    As believable albeit in retrospect as Chamberlain and his bit of paper at Croydon Airport.

  10. I remember discussions 20 years ago as to why the Scotland back line couldn’t reliably pass the ball 5 metres. Russell is on a whole other level and it looks like Townsend has been told to get him onside.

    • His pass against England was sensational. I can’t remember ever seeing a pass at Murrayfield take out as many defenders.

  11. Sounds like Dodson has had some stern words towards Toony to fix his relationship with Russell or get the boot, cant believe what i’m seeing.

    • Possibly Dodson, but could it also have come from Ritchie and/or other senior players?
      Ritchie always comes across as a measured, intelligent guy not prone to some of the typical player-speak we often hear.

      • It’s a measure of the man. 2 months ago he was 4th choice and not even selected NOW he’s one of the most skilful players ever.
        Any supposed negativity towards GT is his fault.


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