Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland reaction: Finn Russell calls for improved mental toughness

Co-captain praises team's resilience in narrow loss at the Aviva Stadium

Scotland co-captain Finn Russell carries the ball against Ireland. Image: © Craig Watson -
Scotland co-captain Finn Russell carries the ball against Ireland. Image: © Craig Watson -

SCOTLAND co-captain Finn Russell hailed his team’s “brilliant” defensive performance against Ireland this afternoon, but warned that the players need to improve their mental resilience if they are to break clear of mid-table mediocrity in the Six Nations.

“The mentality we had today, especially in defence, was brilliant – but throughout the campaign we need to get mentally stronger,” he said. “We need to get better at putting in performances week-in, week-out, and putting in 80 minute performances.

“We’ve had spells in this championship where we have been brilliant but at the same time we’ve had spells where we’ve let teams get on the front foot and build momentum.

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“We are progressing,” he added. “It’s tough only winning two games [during this Six Nations campaign] but I think this campaign will make us better come the summer and November and the next Six Nations.”

Russell was pressed on what Scotland need to do to avoid a repeat of this Six Nations when they have played some brilliant rugby in bursts but then fallen off the pace and paid a heavy toll with losses to France and Italy, as well as a missed bonus-point against Wales, leaving them fourth in the table … yet again.

“My personal opinion is that mentally we need to get a lot better and not drift out of moments in the game,” he said.We need to be in every moment of the game and that’s a big work-on for us.

“Against Ireland, I think we were there for 90 per cent of the game but there were a couple of moments that allowed Ireland into it and against the best team in the world you can’t do that.

“For every sports team that happens. Every individual sportsman or woman, too. We are growing and today showed that. Yes, we had a couple of moments where we made mistakes or not the right choice, but we bounced back.

“When you have these moments when you drift, the most important thing is getting back into the moment. We were able to do that today and moving forward we need to keep that mentality.

“You’re going to have moments where mentally it is tough, but we need to make sure we are looking out for the guys around us and getting them back in as soon as possible.”



“I think what we showed out there was brilliant,” Russell continued, turning his attention to the Ireland match. “The defensive efforts that we put in were outstanding and that’s what it should be every week.

“It’s a bit frustrating that we weren’t able to do that week-in, week-out in this campaign but the boys showed passion and how brave we are coming to play Ireland at the Aviva with them having the title on the line.

“The performance we put in was outstanding. There are areas that we still need to work on and get better at, but as a whole I was really proud of the boys.”

It was very much a rearguard effort and Russell did express frustration that Scotland’s attack did not fire on all cylinders.

“The way Ireland defend, they want you to try to go wide and they get across in that drift defence … when we look back it at, we will potentially think that we needed to be more direct,” he reflected.

“In the second half, when we went with the pick-and-go, that’s what got us to a few line breaks. [So] maybe we should have done that in the first half, I’m not sure. But it’s still a positive that we did manage to break down that Irish defence and create chances. A couple of loose offloads in that second half allowed them to get out of jail.

“They forced us into a few errors, but I think it was more about us giving them easy access into the game,” he added. “I put a restart out on the full which gave them field position to kick for a line-out on our 22.

“That’s been through the whole campaign – there have been soft mistakes or allowing teams access into the game to build momentum. We need to go forward from a tough campaign and be better.”

Russell also praised the performance of inside-centre Stafford McDowall, who marked his second cap and first Six Nations appearance with an assured performance both sides of the ball.

“I thought Stafford was brilliant,” he said. “He put their defence under pressure and in defence he was really good.

“The first half especially, he shrugged off Bundee Aki and made a linebreak which really got him into the game.

“He’s been brilliant in training for us in this campaign and he really took his chance today.

“He’s a real competitor. I’ve not played with him that much with him being at Glasgow and me being away, but in training for most of this competition I’ve been on the other side to him and he always brings that intensity.”


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About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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. I would start by cutting out the ‘we’re playing for each other’ mantra. It isn’t working for them, nor should it. In the Netflix doc GT tells his squad he ‘doesn’t give a f*** about anyone outside this circle’ which is an interesting attitude given he’s the coach of the national team. During the build up to the Ireland game he said on the ironically named ‘Our Thistle’ made for Scottish Rugby that they are playing for a trophy, for each other, for their supporters and for Dr Robson – in that order. When I watch Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and more recently Italy I see teams made up of men driven to succeed because playing for their country means everything to them. I’ve no doubt it means everything to some of our players but does it – and can it -mean everything when what’s most important to the coach is to play for your teammates. Your teammates will always be there to put an arm around you, commiserate and pick you back up again. But that is not the role of your supporters who have their hopes and expectations pinned to the jerseys you wear each time you take the field. Maybe it’s not the team who are too nice. It’s your supporters. It’s us.

  2. Nothing much has changed… we lost a match that was winnable but for poor handling and focus in key moments and positions on the park.
    Is Russell referring to himself as much as anyone in this press chat? Sloppy passing in key transitions, kicking the ball out on the full etc…are not befitting of a 10 who will challenge for silverware.
    GT needs to be on his bike. We won’t progress any further with him as HC…as shown by a 7-8yr period. Possibly retain Tandy…but the rest can go. The defense was good for the most part against Ireland but our sloppiness in attack put us under a lot of pressure we didn’t need to be. Kinghorn, DVDM and Russell often the main culprits.Our attack has been pretty poor overall with P Horne as attack coach.
    More of the same next year and we’ll likely lose all 5 6N matches. There was a good chance to challenge seriously for this 6N and we blew it big time….like most 6N …and the last 2 RWCs….but hey let’s continue with the pipe dream that GT ‘is on the right path’

  3. I’ve liked the way Finn has spoken after games, being fairly blunt about our various failings. On the field his performances seemed to tail off as the tournament went on, but perhaps that has something to do with the gameplan, such as it is? There seemed to be a heck of a lot of kicking and we really struggled to get the wide men involved.

    Personally I think we need a hard-nosed man in as head coach, someone in the Vern Cotter mould who will intimidate the players (in a good way) and ensure a greater focus. You can’t help but feel the Irish players, for example, probably have greater reverence for Farrell than our players do for Townsend.

    • What I’d like, is the entire team of players and coaches to stop talking and start producing something worth talking about on a consistent basis…and earn the right to talk the talk…otherwise it just all sounds and reads like a pile of hogpoop..

  4. Our biggest failing is the penalty count, far too many of which are from individuals going into tackles with no support. We are also poor at persuading the refs that we are not illegal and get runs of penalties, as in Rome, which gifts the opposition field position. Play some great stuff on our good days but, in tight games, too many of our players are not good enough

  5. Brilliant tournament this year. A total of nine points being being the difference in the last round of games. I don’t understand the doom and gloom in some of the comments about us. We are a quality side with some great new additions. The mental toughness is there we just need to keep it for 80mins.

    • So the coach is proud,totally amazed at this statement. We hang on like grim death in Wales to the wooden spoon winners. We loose to France but its the officials fault. We beat England so everythings great and rosie in the garden surely we have got away from this nonsense. We go to Italy arrogant that we are probably playing the wooden spoon winners wrong we get beat no heed of Italys performance in France. On to Dublin where we once again we loose and the coach is proud.I think I witnessed last Scots win in 2010 at Croke Park. Final table finishing 4th now I may be wrong but we had a 3rd place finish last year. So I for one take no pleasure in this campaign and and although it will fall on deaf ears Mr Townsend please give this up , we are going back the way yet again.

  6. As a qualified referee, I consider myself slow to criticise the officials performance, at least publicly anyway. It’s a difficult job, and it’s hard to please everyone any of the time. However, I do think questions need to be asked about the quality and particularly the diversity of the officials that World Rugby provides for top level rugby.

    A third of the 6 Nations games this year were reffed by English officials. They also appeared as assistants 7 times and had 2 of the TMOs. The SRU provided an official for just one assistant appearance. As much as officials are considered unpartisan, this clearly isn’t a level playing field.

    The result seems to be that teams like Scotland and Italy (they at least had 1 ref and 2 assistant showings this year) tend to get less of the rub of the green when it comes to decisions (see France’s position in the final table as evidence A). The non try against France was certainly head scratching, and Scotland fans will also point to the 17 penalties in a row against Wales where the home team went unpunished for 73 minutes. They might also complain that the disallowed try against Italy was a carbon copy of the first Irish try against Scotland in the RWC (both should have been ruled out).

    However, the difference between the Italy game and today was that in Rome Scotland continually gave away stupid and needless penalties that were rightly penalized by Anthony Gardner (best official in the tournament for my money).

    Today, Scotland were continually penalised unnecessarily by Matthew Carley. Every time I watch him referee he appears to favour one team over the other rather blatantly.
    -O’Mahoney’s infringement in the first try was far more significant contact than Cummings’ in the second half.
    -The second half try clearly wasn’t grounded.
    -There were a couple of knock ons against Scotland where the ball seemed to go backwards, whereas the opposite seemed to apply to Ireland with multiple knock ons and accidental offsides going unpunished.

    While Luke Pearce is an excellent referee, none of the other English refs (Karl Dickson, Matthew Carley and Christophe Ridley) appear any better than what other nations could provide. It’s about time World Rugby looked to ensure that none of the competing nations provide a disproportionate number of officials. Scottish refs wouldn’t be any worse.

    • Appreciate your informed thoughts and agree with all of them!

      I was amazed at Carley’s haste to award the second try yesterday given he couldn’t possibly see the grounding from his angle.

      There were at least two holding-on penalties awarded to Ireland when their player had a hand on the ball for about 0.01 seconds before then losing their feet, and it just felt so unlikely that the same decision would be awarded to Scotland.

      As for Karl Dickson, no harm to the man but he has so clearly been promoted at extreme and entirely unjustified pace so the ‘pathway’ of player becoming ref can be paraded.

  7. I think we deserved to finish second and actually regard this Championship as progress. 2 defeats were by a combined 6 points and 1 was a complete robbery. Be careful what you wish for regarding a new head coach as it may not be the “silver bullet” many people think.

    • Wands…This wasn’t a good tournament at all. Lost more games than Italy, nearly lost to Wales u20s, moaning about a try at the death at home when the team should never have been in that situation in the first place, beat a transitional England that still finished above us, have absolutely no attacking plan whatsoever, and decided to wait for a defence to show up until the last game. The whole coaching set up needs an overhaul and Finn Russell is not a captain.

      • We beat Wales – just – who put in probably the worst 30 minutes of Tier 1 rugby in history to start that game.

        We lost to easily the worst French team to roll up to Murrayfield for at least a generation.

        We beat an England team who were absolutely woeful for all but the first and last 10 minutes.

        We lost to Italy after squandering a 12 point lead.

        And, we lost to Ireland who were as poor so they have played against us for some time and despite what is by common consent a heroic defensive effort.

        Progress? Don’t make me laugh. But for Wales we could easily (and deservedly) have finished last.

        I’m sick of seeing Scotland players smiling at and joking with each other after mistakes, such as Kinghorn’s failure to stop that penalty finding touch today. That is not how winners behave. Winners tear strips of each other when mistakes are made.

        This is international rugby, supposedly for grown men. But the culture which this coaching team engender is one of accepting mediocrity in case anyone gets their feelings hurt. It is woeful and somebody, somewhere needs to call these clowns to account.

      • Garry, you seem to remove absolutely any professional nous the opposition may offer, to tee up your “scotland are shite” conclusion.

      • Garry, you seem to remove absolutely any professional nous the opposition may offer, to tee up your “scotland are shite” conclusion.

      • The professional nous of the opponent is not something even I would suggest Townsend can control, so what is the point?

        I’m trying to put this supposedly ‘decent’ tournament in perspective.

        Only Italy played anything like close to their potential against us. Perhaps others need to take greater consideration of the performance of our opponents when assessing our own team’s ‘achievements’.

    • well we could have been second but we allowed Wales, Italy and France to take points off us that should have been taken, sloppy defence does not deserve anything. Did you see Wales yesterday? We made them look good and nearly lost to them and gifted them 2 points

      • As a Warriors fan, I am not so convinced. Didn’t last long as Italy head coach. I suspect he likes the day to day work at club level. Tough ask to make that kind of step change we’ve seen at Glasgow over a few weeks at international level.

  8. The skills required both mentally and physically are best tested and challenged in higher pressured environments. So why have we not arranged a tougher summer tour?

    • Maybe the summer tour is an opportunity to get a good look at the new blood coming through, integrate them into the set-up and to encourage the Div 2 nations.
      Then we can see who is suitable for a place in the Autumn internationals and the integration is ready for next year’s 6 Nations.

    • We’re not a big enough draw for the bigger teams. It all comes down to the bottom line. I’m sure the SRU would have loved a tour of the big Southern Hemisphere teams, but the harsh reality is they can sell more tickets if the other 6N teams (with the possible exception of Italy) play them.

      • I hear what your saying though look at Wales who play South Africa and Australia!

        DMcL I appreciate what you mention about new blood on the other hand as much as we want ‘Div 2’ nations having opportunity we really should be focusing on ourselves. Additionally is this not a reason as to why the wider rugby world has not taken us seriously enough at times – including the press and commentary team on STV!!

      • Wales are a bigger draw, they’ve won something in the last decade, which is more than can be said for us.

        I know Wales are going through a tough spell currently, but their semi recent success will still be working in their favour.

  9. Wow, something is definitely amiss in the camp, though we kind of knew that a while back but this is piublic knowledge now. Coaching team saying there’s not a problem, Finn says it as it is. Against Wales, France and Italy we just needed to put our foot on the throat, control the game and see out what should have been comfortable wins. Yet we fell apart having played some good rugby – it has to be mentality. We just can’t keep cool, calm heads when the pressure’s on, we just seem to turn into proverbial rabbits in the headlights. And that mentality is down to coaches to fix and then the team to stick to. Splash the cash on a top psychologist and also get a game plan sorted. If’s been ignored for too long, we need a coach who can acknowledge the issue and do something about it NOW.

  10. finn russell is right the whole team has to get mentally tougher finn had a poor game not up to his standards and it shows on the team, there was far too much needless kicking what was wrong with giving our backs a chance to run with the ball into no mans land we have some of the fastest and best ball handlers in the game they never got a chance to run with the ball toony used his subs better today but there is still far too many needless mistakes especially at the lineouts if you keep giving free balls to the opposition it boosts their confidence finishing fourth in the 6 nations is not progress

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