ALI PRICE believes that those who regard Finn Russell a maverick fundamentally misunderstand the man and the player.
That description has connotations about Russell being a loose canon, unreliable, with a devil-may-care attitude to the serious business of running an international backline, but Price insists that his good friend is simply operating on a different wavelength to the rest of us.
The pair were team-mates at Glasgow Warriors for five seasons at the start of their professional careers, they have played half-back together for Scotland 29 times, and both toured South Africa with the Lions last summer when they featured in the final Test. They shared a flat in Glasgow before Russell’s move to Racing 92 in the summer of 2018 and remain close.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a maverick, I would say he reads the game differently to pretty much any other 10 in the world,” said Price earlier this week, as he looked ahead to Scotland kicking off their 2022 Six Nations campaign against England on Saturday. Head coach Gregor Townsend will name his team for the match tomorrow [Thursday] lunchtime with Price and Russell all but certain to be the No 9 and No 10.
“The space he sees and the skillset he has that enables him to pull off certain moves – the chips, the long balls, the passes – makes him unique,” Price continued. “It’s just him. He’s a world-class 10. For me, my job is to try and help facilitate that as much as I can.
“He’s always looking for space. We’ve got a good relationship where we know what each other is thinking most of the time, which obviously helps.”
When Price first broke into the Scotland team back in 2016, he and Russell were viewed as kindred spirits, but since Greig Laidlaw’s retirement from international rugby after the 2019 World Cup, the scrum-half has matured into an important leader of the side.
He believes his partnership with Russell is similar to the job Ben Youngs will be expected to do in supporting Marcus Smith for England on Saturday.
“Ben plays a massive role for the England team, especially now that Farrell’s out,” said Price. “He has over 110 caps for England and has a huge amount of experience. He’s a very cool and calm player.
“Having someone like that inside Marcus will help them. But Marcus is still going to play the way he usually does. Similar to how we play here in Scotland in terms of our control. But we’ve got our own 10 in Finn who can break a game up at any moment.
“For us, it’s being aware of what Marcus can do and trying to nullify any off-the-cuff moves that he might try and pull out, and just trying to pressure him.
“It’ll be a pretty loud environment. Anything we can do to get some energy behind us and maybe make the England players second-guess their decisions or put doubt into their minds, we’ll take any advantage we can.”
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Price’s own evolution earned him that call-up to last summer’s Lions tour, and he believes the trip took his game to the next level. Now he is determined to use the experience gained in South Africa to help Scotland make the leap from plucky underdogs capable of one-off victories against the top teams into genuine title contenders in the Six Nations.
“You can pick up on things here and there, maybe little comments that players from other nations may have made while we were in South Africa about how they approach certain aspects of a game,” he explained. “That could be quite valuable – but that works both ways in terms of the opposition maybe knowing what some of us Scottish players could be thinking at certain moments.”
The key to success in the Six Nations is no secret: it is a sprint rather than a marathon, so teams need to start fast and then accelerate. With that in mind, Price believes Scotland can learn from last year’s campaign when they finished a frustrating fourth in the table despite famous wins in London and Paris.
“We had that great win at Twickenham, which was the first in 30 odd years, and we were in a great position the following week against Wales in terms of score-line, but they got it by a point come the end,” he said. “Ireland, again, was a three-point game. So, it’s just about putting it all together now.
“Getting victories on the board in week one and week two puts you in a good position on the table, so that’s what we will be trying to do,” he continued. “That’s what we’re doing in training now; fine tuning and getting ourselves right for the first game because you can’t look past the first game, it’s massive.
“If you get four or five wins then you’re knocking at the door on that last weekend to see where you finish up. Hopefully if we can put it all together by drawing on the experiences from last year and the year before, then we should be in a good place come the last weekend.
“From an individual and team point of view, having the confidence and the belief that we can beat these teams comes from the fact that we have beaten these teams.
“The belief is certainly there that if we can go out and implement how we want to play and our game-plan then we have the players, the ability and the skill level to come away with victories. I don’t know whether it’s arrogance, but it’s definitely a belief, a confidence.
“There’s depth in every position now, which maybe has been lacking at times in the past, so there are no excuses because we’ve got it all there, we’ve got the training facilities, we’ve got everything in place for us to perform.
“There’s a lot of guys in good form who are looking to go out there and enjoy it and hopefully get off to the best start possible.
‘Then it’s searching for that consistency. It’s not about having one great performance this weekend and then not backing it up because we’d then be in no better a position than previous years.”