A LITTLE under a year ago there were supposedly three stand-offs in Scotland who were superior to Finn Russell. A few weeks out from the Rugby World Cup, there may well not be three better 10s on the planet.
Even allowing for the fact that Gregor Townsend‘s preference for three other players in the build-up to last year’s Autumn Tests was not a plausible stance, Russell’s turnaround over the past few months has been remarkable. On Wednesday, after being named in the head coach’s final squad of 33 for the World Cup, the 30-year-old insisted that the key to the transformation since late 2022 was nothing more complex than a little rest and recuperation – something of which he had had far too little in the previous year’s close season following the British & Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa.
“That year after the Lions tour was tough,” Russell said. “We’d had a long season, with the Lions on top of it, then I had three and a half weeks off before I was back playing again. That was tough, and I think it had a knock-on effect for that whole season and I never really managed to get back into it.
“It’s more the mental side that tires me. Physically, I wasn’t in my best shape in 2021-22 but I think that was more a reflection of where I was. I wasn’t down, I was just tired.
“Last summer I got five weeks off, so it was nice to chill out and get some time away from it. And this season I had four weeks, which was nice.
“If I’m mentally fresh and ready I’ll have a better game. As a 10 you’ve got to think your way through it and plan your way through the game – but if you’re physically not there you can’t be quite where you want to be, and you’re slow and sluggish. It goes hand in hand, I think.
“But now I’m feeling good. I’m feeling fit, mentally I’m feeling good – so I’ve got no excuses now.”
After five years playing for Racing 92 and living in Paris following his 2018 move from Glasgow, Russell is officially a Bath player now. The move came at the right time as it means that he, his partner Emma and their baby daughter Charlie will be a lot closer to home, but he will always be grateful to French rugby for helping him develop as a player and as a man.
“France was brilliant. You adapt and you grow and you have different experiences. You get to understand their culture, their style of play, how the players are.
“But also just as a guy, being out of my comfort zone quite a lot of the time over in France, having to figure things out, was really good for me. And obviously we had our little girl over there, so that’s made me have to change a little bit – I think for the better. It’s been great for me being in France. More experience, more exposure.”
That experience and exposure should certainly help Scotland on the biggest stage of all, and Russell himself is confident that he is going into next month’s tournament as a wiser, more seasoned player than he was at either of his first two World Cups.
“I think it’s different this time. Last time there were a lot of older guys than me. I was 26 going into the last World Cup, turning 27, whereas this time I’ll be one of the older guys, one of the most experienced guys. It’s a different responsibility.
“In the 2015 World Cup we got out of the group and we should have beaten Australia in that quarter-final. At the last World Cup we didn’t perform at our best and we didn’t get out of the group stage. Having those two experiences will hopefully help me, but also the experience I’ve got will help the boys and help the team.”