RWC23: Ireland v Scotland: 10 questions for Finn Russell

Some thoughts from the talismanic stand-off ahead of Saturday's night's Pool B showdown in Paris

Finn Russell catches up with former Scotland head coach Vern Cotter ahead of last Sunday's big win over Romania. Image: © Craig Watson -
Finn Russell catches up with former Scotland head coach Vern Cotter ahead of last Sunday's big win over Romania. Image: © Craig Watson -

1. Is this the biggest game of your career?

“Maybe this one or the quarter-final against Australia in 2015. Right now, this game is the biggest because of everything around the World Cup and Ireland being the number one team in the world.

“[So] it’s probably the biggest game I’ve been involved in, and we’ll have to be at our best to have a chance of winning. This probably will be the biggest game of my career, then every one [after] would be as it comes. In terms of the whole situation around it, I think it’s great.

“We just have to embrace the occasion as the week goes on because on Saturday if we go to the stadium and get a bit shocked by what’s happening, that’s when we will get caught out.

“Ireland have probably played more bigger games than us and they’ve won bigger games than us as well. It’s something that we as players will address before the game, to see if people have other experiences they can share. The main thing is to enjoy it as a group of players.

“It’s not always you’re going into a knock-out game against the number one team in the world at a World Cup so close to home that all your family and friends are going to be there. As big as it is, it’s going to be good fun.”

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That was the month that was: September 2023

2. Are you looking forward to getting back to Paris?

“We travel on Thursday afternoon and are staying on the outskirts so there won’t be much time to get into Paris and go to any of the cafes I used to go to, or see any mates that are there. But it will be a brilliant way to hopefully not finish off my French experience [any knock-out games Scotland qualify for will be in the French capital too]. Hopefully it’s us qualifying, but if it’s not, then it’s in a city that I love.

“Paris is a great city and the Stade de France is an amazing stadium. I would imagine there will be a lot of Scots, but judging by the South Africa versus Ireland game, there will be a lot of Irish there as well. It should be a great occasion and both sets of fans will definitely be getting behind their teams.”

3. You are one of six players in the current squad to have previously tasted victory against Ireland [in 2017]. Can you use anything from that experience to help in this game?

“I think that’s probably too long ago to read much into it. In six years, we have changed a lot as a team and Ireland have as well. I’m one of the few [current] boys who played in the game, so it shows the odds are against us but we’ve done it before so there is no reason why we can’t do it again.

4. Has you pal Simon Zebo been in touch at all?

“We chat all the time, me and Zeebs. I’ll probably have a laugh with him this week and he’ll be taking the piss out of me. He’ll be over for the game so I’ll catch up with him.”

5. Do you ever get nervous?

“For both teams it’s a massive game and this is why you play – to have these moments and these occasions. I wouldn’t say I get nervous. I know the enormity of the game and know there is more pressure and more on the line, but that just makes me think I’ve got to have everything right.

“Against South Africa, I went the other way and was probably over-focused. I’m trying to find a balance this week, but I wouldn’t say that’s nerves. I’ll be pretty relaxed going into the game. We’ve got to be clear in our roles and what we have to achieve. We’ve done all the work, it’s just about going out there, enjoying yourself and executing.”

6. You seem to walk onto the pitch with more of a swagger the bigger the game is?

“I think so, there’s a bit of that. It’s a massive occasion, the chance to show how good we can be as a team and as players. It’s the biggest stage in the world, so having a bit of swagger can be a good thing.”

7. Did you say that you overthought the South Africa game?

“Potentially. I thought a lot about their blitz defence and what was going to come. I was almost looking more at their defence than what we could do in attack. This week it’s more about focusing on us, what we can do to put them under pressure and score points.

“Of course we will look at the Irish defence and attack but I’ll be more chatting to the boys outside me about what we are going to do, instead of thinking of what their defence is up to. It’s about going after them, taking them on and having the confidence to do that.

“The South Africa defence is quite different to a lot of teams. They blitz very hard. In the first half against us they kicked a lot of ball and put me under pressure whereas in the second half they put the boys outside me under pressure. They changed it up.

“That’s where it goes back to us being confident, sticking to our system and our strategy and playing our game rather than overthinking what their defence is going to do and worrying about that.”

8. Are you going to noise up Johnny Sexton?

“I wouldn’t say we need to go over the top and put him off his stride or take him out. We just need to be aware of what he can do and how he can control the game.

“If we go all out to shut him down, it creates space elsewhere which is probably what they want. We’ve got a great defence so we just need to stick to our system, have confidence in each other and keep doing what we have been doing.

“At times, they are going to put us under pressure and get line-breaks, but it’s about how we stay together as a unit and stay in the moment, rather than us clocking off for a split second because that’s all it takes for them to get a try.

“Of course they have great players but we are backing ourselves and our defence against them.

“I tend just to play my own game. There’s always going to be that individual battle going on, but I don’t intend to get caught up in that. At times, something might arise in the game, but it’s up to me to stick to my job and do what’s best for the team, controlling the game.

“There might be some mouthing off here and there, maybe some words exchanged, but I wouldn’t expect anything else. Words from him, not from me. Never from me!

“That’s just how it is. In these sorts of games you do anything you can to get one up on your opposite man or the opposition team. If we’ve got the momentum, you might get someone like Peter O’Mahony trying to start some kind of handbags, or it might be me trying a chip over the top or a crazy offload that just changes the picture.

“I’ve never played with him [Sexton] but I’ve played against him a few times for Glasgow and in international matches. He’s such an influential player in their team. I’ve heard him described as like a coach on the field so I think he probably has a big influence on the training pitch and outside it as well with the coaches. I’m not surprised at how well he’s still playing. He’s had a great career and he suits the way Ireland play.

“I was on the Lions tour in 2017, but by the time I joined it, it was very much the Test 23 and the non-Test players so I didn’t really cross over with him much. I don’t know him outside of rugby, just from playing against him.”

9. How’s your relationship with Gregor Townsend?

“It’s been good. I think that’s all behind us now, thankfully. That’s been 11 years I’ve worked with Gregor now so to have a couple of bumps in the road is not that bad. We’re both on the same page, as we have been all summer, and throughout the Six Nations. It’s just about making sure we continue on this journey we’re on and try to get the win at the weekend.

“Gregor thinks I’m coming into my peak as a 10. I think this is a good age to be at where I’m still young enough but I’ve got a lot of experience behind me, so that bodes well for a 10. I think I’m playing some decent rugby just now and I just need to make sure I’m ready for what comes at the weekend. I’m against Johnny Sexton, one of the best 10s in the world as well, so it’s going to be tough. I think for me to be able to manage the boys and try to keep us on track throughout the week and in the game is going to be really important.”

10. Have you been practising your drop-goals in case it is tight on Saturday?

“No, I’ve attempted a few drop-goals in games in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever hit one. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that.

“I haven’t actually thought about it. I’ll get a few tips off Ben [Healy]. He’s the man for drop-goals.

“It’ll be tough to beat Ireland by eight points. They obviously don’t concede any soft tries and they’re very disciplined.

“To beat them by eight points, that’ll potentially be down to our defence to hold them out whilst also taking our chances, albeit there probably won’t be many chances. When we do get them, we need to take them.”

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. He needs Horne at 9 and decent options at centre….sadly far from certain that GT will deliver either, and will leave Finn smothered by the Irish blitz defence.

    • Absolutely. Horne gives him that extra half-second, apart from other strengths such as his support play.

    • I cant see Finn being smothered by the Irish blitz defence. You have to remember he had 2 weeks to evaluate, review and filter the SA game. He wont let a similar situation take over. He’s matured massively. Even the choice of words he uses show us how different he reads and prepares for games. His preparation along with the squad is on another level this week

      On another note you have to take on board the noise of whats coming from the Irish media. Its dangerous stuff. Those of us who remember the similar sounds from the English didnt fair to well for them in 1990. It becomes fuel. Teams say they dont read in to it and as professional as they may be towards preparation and mental focus Gregor himself has already referenced that Ireland claim already that they are in quarter finals.

  2. World Cup quarter final 2015 – good call Finn. I’m still smarting over that ne – daylight robbery and if Joubert had done his job that day then a path to the final looked more than possible. We don’t get those chances very often and to have one stolen from us still cuts to the bone.

  3. I suspect Scotland just need to go for it and chuck everything at Ireland. We’re not expected to win, which is when things get interesting. If nothing else, hopefully it’s a cracker of a game and a chance to show how we can play. As Paul O’Connell would say “just because we’re from a small country doesn’t mean we can’t beat anybody”. This is our best team of the pro era so far. So there isn’t anyone else who can do it for us.

  4. Could do with him having a MOTM performance that he so often bring against the English. To make that happen we need the rest of the team in tune and fast ball to work with.

  5. He is the man, he is our man. if he is on song he has the keys to unlock the Irish. completely unplayable on his day – BRING IT ON


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