Finn Russell reaps rewards of New Zealand scholarship

Finn Russell at BT Murrayfield
Finn Russell at BT Murrayfield
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Former stonemason Finn Russell today acknowledged the debt he owes to New Zealand rugby after carving out an opportunity at international level for himself.

The 22-year-old stand-off, who made his BT Murrayfield debut against Argentina last weekend, is in no doubt that a summer spent playing at Lincoln University club in Christchurch under the Macphail Scholarship scheme helped prepare him for returning home to take his chance with Glasgow Warriors.

Russell eventually began contesting a professional berth as a springboard to gaining debut caps on Scotland’s summer tour before new coach Vern Cotter, a Kiwi, awarded him his first home Test outing in the defeat of Argentina last weekend.

According to Russell, he has found himself in the right place at the right time in feeling suited to the style being implemented by new coach Cotter.

“Vern likes to play an open style and that has really brought me on,” he said. “For me it was a brilliant experience [against Argentina]. My first time playing at Murrayfield and to get a win the way we did was a brilliant performance.”

However, reaching that pinnacle stage has not been easy for Russell.

“I had a loss of confidence when I came back after playing there [Christchurch] for three months. At first I couldn’t get into the Glasgow team and was playing for Ayr. I did all I could until I got my break at the end of the year and had a chance to have a game. I guess I took it.

“It was brilliant going out there and playing the style of rugby that they play. That has helped here because Vern likes to play that kind of expansive open game of rugby. Those three months out there really brought me on and gave me that extra bit of confidence that I needed last season going back to Glasgow. At the club they gave us bicycles to help us get back and forward to training on time and it was great to experience the culture going out for meals and so on with the other players and talking rugby.

“You would see the passion, not just among the players, but across the whole country and the players reflect how much it means to the crowd. They bounce off each other.

“That is brilliant, but it is kind of what we have here where the crowd give us so much energy when we are playing and encourage us to give a good performance – and then we can give that back to them.”

Leading players would also drop into the club scene to raise standards. “Dominic Bird came back [from the Crusaders] and got capped not long afterwards. Robbie Fruean as well,” explained Russell. “Then there was Jordan Taufua. I think it was probably a bit like Glasgow and Edinburgh, if you are not picked you go back to your club.”

Attachment to the Canterbury high-performance institute also provided Russell with the chance to be in the same set-up as Dan Carter, widely regarded as the world’s leading stand-off and mainstay of that provincial outfit.

“He has been the best ten in the world for I don’t know how long, ten years or something, so to get a run out against him ... if I am lucky enough it would be amazing for me. I would love to have a go against the best ten in the world,” said Russell.

Having aspired to cap honours, it is only a matter of time before Russell, a prolific goal-kicker, registers his initial points at top level. At one stage last week, he appeared to be putting himself forward for a long-range effort, demonstrating the keenness in this current group which surely augurs well for Saturday’s clash.

For the moment, though, he is happy to wait as Greig Laidlaw takes on the task so expertly.

“To be honest, with Greig kicking that takes a bit of responsibility off my shoulders,” he added. “Besides, Greig is our kicker and it is up to me and everyone else to back him.”