SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend praised Finn Russell’s all-round performance against Argentina, highlighting that the stand-off is more than just a box of tricks with ball in hand, but also a shrewd game manager and a committed defender.
The two men have a tumultuous past but appear determined to put any personality clash to one side for the sake of the national cause, and Russell produced a stand-out performance in helping the home side to eight tries in their final Autumn Test – albeit against an ill-disciplined Pumas outfit who played an hour with 14 man after the 22nd minute red-carded of Marcos Kremer, and nine minutes of the second half with only 12 men following quick fire yellow-cards for second-rows Matias Alemanno and Tomas Lavanini.
“A very good display,” was Townsend’s overall assessment of the stand-off’s display. “There are parts of his game that maybe don’t get talked about a huge amount. He had three tackles in a row, so showed his competitiveness there.
“He was working out that the defence was rushing up on his outside and taking that space. He’s got a very good carrying game, a really good fend and offload, and that created line-breaks. And the little kick through in the second half was the right thing to do and created a try for Cam Redpath.
“His passing skills are up there with the best in the world and maybe we expect that, those great passes, but they led to good opportunities. Stuart Hogg’s line off him was from a very good pass from Finn and later he hits Blair Kinghorn and Blair creates a try for Darcy Graham in the corner.
“He’s now the man in possession and he’s played really well the last two weeks, so it will take something special from Blair Kinghorn and Adam Hastings to change that,” Townsend added.
The coach was also full of praise for his back three, who scored five of the team’s eight tries with Darcy Graham claiming a hat-trick while Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg scored a try each.
“Stuart has been full of energy. He’s one of our best players and when you look at the back-three which played together the last three weeks, there is multiple threats there,” he said.
“There’s a very, very strong runner who has had a couple of good moments in defence in Duhan, there is a guy on the other side who is a nightmare to play against and is scoring lots of tries, and then there is Stuart who is a creative player with a really good all-round game, an excellent kicking game, can finish off tries as he showed today, and who can also put other players away.
“That’s a really good mix in the back three, and today the midfield did really well to get them involved.”
It has been a mixed-bag Autumn series, with Scotland suffering a frustrating loss to Australia, then making hard work of beating Fiji, before letting a golden opportunity to claim a first ever win over the All Blacks slip through their fingers last weekend. While this was certainly a positive end to the campaign, Townsend recognised that one swallow does not make a summer.
“At half-time, when they scored, we knew it was going to be a tricky second half, so I was delighted with the way the players adapted to different situations,” he said. “I think three of their tries were from turnovers and one was an intercept, but we stayed calm and trusted that what we were doing in attack and defence was having a big effect on Argentina.
“It was a real professional job in the second half, but more than that there was a lot of creativity and I thought the bench made a big impact which is something we took from the New Zealand game when their bench upped the energy.
“You’re constantly learning and building, getting our best players on the ball as much as possible, going through long sessions of defence, but also you have to learn from the things that haven’t gone as well for you.
“One area we talked about was being in games right until the end. Today was slightly different in that we were well ahead but that is something we will have to work on, never thinking a game is won or lost because the teams are so competitive and coming back at you.
“I think taking opportunities is still a work-on. We were held up over the try-line twice today and we were close to the try-line on four or five occasions last week and didn’t score.
“Being consistent in your performances, which we weren’t in last year’s Six Nations, is an aim for us this year – to be tough to beat in all five games.
“It is an on-going process. Whenever you think you’ve got it [rugby] sorted, it will come back to bite you, so you’ve got to be on top of it all the time.”
Townsend added that he was not overly concerned about the team coughing up a try soon after Argentina had been reduced to 12 men.
“I think it was just one incident, really,” he reasoned. “The space is obviously more evident when the opposition is down to 12 so maybe we were trying to rush the ball to get into that space rather than doing the narrowing up of the defence or getting the contact right.
“I think we got held up over the try-line on a couple of occasions during that period and while these are things you want to work on, I think, in the main, the players did what was right to create opportunities and we’ve got the players to finish them off.”
Meanwhile, Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie was tight-lipped about his yellow-carding during the second half of the match for his role in a 20-man brawl. “I just saw someone going for Darcy and he’s my wee mate so I look after him,” he said.