SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend echoed the praise for Finn Russell which was swirling around Murrayfield and in living rooms, pubs and clubhouse bars the length and breadth of the country, after the talismanic playmaker’s virtuous second-half performance against Wales.
But the national team head coach was also keen to highlight the role Russell’s team-mates played in allowing the great entertainer to strut his stuff in such an effective and entertaining manner.
Russell had a direct role in all four of his team’s tries after the break, he tormented the visitors with his inch-perfect cross-field kicking, he split the away team wide open time after time with his delayed passing and offloads out of contact, and, crucially, he judged when to twist and when to stick which was a key factor in Scotland achieving their biggest ever win in this fixture.
“Very good,” replied Townsend, when asked for his assessment of the player’s performance. “The threats that Finn has around him set up opportunities. He made very good decisions on what opportunities to take.
“Our wingers held their width very well and Finn’s kicking to them was excellent. The midfielders offered a dual threat of passing and running. The ability to put passes in to get the wingers in space, and to run hard yourself, forces the defence to mark people outside Finn. If they do that, and they take their eye off him, then he will take those spaces and put people into holes.
Townsend also drew attention to Russell’s work in defence, which often doesn’t gets overlooked because his contributions in attack or so eye-catching.
“The things that will get spotted are his offloads and kicks which were excellent, but when he’s at that level of focus and competitiveness, he’ll deliver a very good all-round performance like he did today,” said the coach.
“I thought he was really good defensively, he’s a really competitive player and that comes out in different ways. It often comes out in his defence, his contact clears – things that won’t get spotted.
“It feels like an improved performance from last week,” he added, turning his attention to the team effort which went into Scotland’s biggest ever win over Wales in the 140-year history of this fixture.
“It did not feel like that at half time – it felt more like Twickenham – but the second half improved. If it was a seven out of ten last week it has moved up to an eight out of ten this week, and we will have to improve again against France next week.
“The next two teams we play are ranked one and two in the world and we have to get up to nine out of ten to beat them.”
Coming into this match, Wales head coach Warren Gatland had a record of 11 wins from 11 matches played against Scotland, but Townsend insists that he takes no particular satisfaction in breaking that winning streak.
“Not at all – the satisfaction was giving our crowd a really good day,” he claimed. “The internal focus was on playing better than we did last week. We did in the end do that but there is more to come from the group.
“We were also playing for a trophy – the Doddie Weir Cup – and that means a lot to us,” Townsend added. “I’m sure he would have been proud. He used to message me before and after games. He would always wish us all the best before the game, and I’d picture him having a Guinness or a red wine sitting at home.
“If we won, he would say after the game that it was all down to the coaches, and if we lost, he would say it was nothing to do with the coaches. It was always a nice text to receive from him and his wife, Kathy, has continued that tradition.
“It was a big day for Kathy and the boys and for them to feel that love that everyone has for them, and for Doddie’s legacy to continue with the fundraising, today was a special day. It was brilliant that we were able to win for them.”
Scotland lost Stuart Hogg to a head injury early in the contest, but Townsend is hopeful that the full-back will come back into contention for the France game.
“He’s feeling better now,” Townsend explained. “He had blurred vision and failed his HIA. He’ll be disappointed not to have been involved in such a win but he’s helped prepare the team and was there at the beginning, so he’s very much part of the victory.
“With concussions, you pretty much have to wait and see how the symptoms go. I don’t believe he has failed many HIAs in his career – I’ll have to get the medics to update me on that – and if he hasn’t, it will be a six-day return to play. The protocols are 12 days if you’ve had a certain number of protocols in the past.”