FINN Russell’s departure from Glasgow Warriors was always just a matter of time. A player of his ability was never going to stay at the one professional club throughout his career – and indeed, to do so would almost certainly have been detrimental to his progress.
That is why, for all that Scotstoun will be a poorer place without him and Scottish rugby will miss him, the 25-year-old’s move away from familiar territory may well be to the benefit of the national team. Quite simply, regular exposure to a different brand of rugby will help him grow as a player; and living in a different country, and being exposed to a different culture, will help him grow as a person.
The country in question – although Glasgow Warriors did not say as much in a statement issued this evening (Sunday) stating Russell would leave at the end of the season – is France. The club is expected to be Racing 92, who know the player well, having been in the same Champions Cup pool as Glasgow in the previous two seasons. Montpellier, where former Scotland coach Vern Cotter is now in charge, were linked with Russell in the summer, but more recent reports in the French press made it clear that Racing were confident they had secured his services.
The aim of the Scottish Rugby Union, of course, is to keep as many of its big-name players as possible in the country. That aim is perfectly understandable, and one which probably the vast majority of us share most of the time. We want both Glasgow and Edinburgh to be as competitive as possible, and, while welcoming players from elsewhere who can contribute something different, we also want those two teams to have a strong Scottish identity.
Having said that, we should recognise that the career of a professional athlete is short, that there is life and rugby well beyond Scotland, and that sometimes the loss to one part of the game in this country can, in time if not immediately, be a gain to another part. In this case, while Glasgow will now need to fill a gaping hole in their backline in time for next season, Scotland should soon have a playmaker who, in addition to retaining all the qualities he has displayed here, has gained greater insight into the game because of his experience of the Top 14.
One worry whenever a Scot moves abroad is the possible lack of interest his club may have in releasing him for national duties. But as long as the right contract is negotiated, that worry can be lessened, even though not all clubs elsewhere have as good a programme of care for their players as the SRU has. And, notwithstanding such concerns, you still have to hope that the benefit of playing in a new environment outweighs the risks. Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, for one, will be aware of that having played in England, France, South Africa and Australia.
“I’ve really enjoyed my five years at Glasgow Warriors,” Russell was quoted as saying in the statement released last night by his current employers. “I would like to thank every player, coach and member of the backroom staff for making it so special.
“During my time at the club I’ve really developed as a player and I’ve been called up to the Scotland and British & Irish Lions squads. I’ve shared so many fantastic moments with people who are now friends for life, and to do it in front of the amazing Glasgow Warriors supporters at Scotstoun has been a dream come true.
“I’ve always wanted to experience as much as I can during what is a short rugby career. It was obviously a difficult decision to leave Glasgow, but I have the opportunity to take myself out of my comfort zone and experience a new culture and type of rugby. However, I am fully focussed on Glasgow Warriors and will do everything I can to make my final season at Scotstoun a successful one.”
Glasgow Warriors managing director Nathan Bombrys said: “Our club has an excellent track record of retaining our key players in recent years. However, in this instance Finn has decided to move on and accept a lucrative opportunity at another club.
“We respect his decision and when the time comes we will thank him for his contribution to the club. It has been great watching him develop and grow wearing a Glasgow Warriors shirt. We know he will be fully focused on trying to bring another trophy to Glasgow Warriors this season.”