Interview - Russell won't go changing
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell’s first foray into a Rugby World Cup came little over a year after his 2014 summer tour emergence against the USA in Houston, when even on debut his audacious talent and relaxed demeanour were evident.
Some considerable water has gone under the bridge in the four seasons since that campaign.
More than 80 appearances for Glasgow Warriors were accompanied by an increasingly-assured place in the Scotland side, while selection on the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand came the day after a try-scoring, man-of-the-match winning performance in Scotland’s victory over Australia in Sydney.
Then followed last season’s transfer to Parisienne glamour side, Racing 92, where in his new but all-too appropriate setting – where attacking flair is ‘de rigueur’ – his development into one of the game’s leading stand-offs has continued apace.
He earned numerous plaudits on the way to this year’s EPCR European Player of the Year nomination as the club reached the Champions Cup Final and the semi-final qualifier of the French Top 14.
Finn has never been one to read too much into the narrative of his career – it’s far too early for such things – or get over excited about the progress made.
Enjoyment is chief among what appears at times as a boyish enthusiasm for the unique opportunities presented by life in the sport. As one never to take any moment for granted, this also acts well-placed shield for a behind-the-scenes studiousness that is so often unseen.
He’ll shrug off that his game – or indeed that he – has changed a great deal in this relatively short but impressive four years, however his measured responses to the summer’s pre-season gave an insight into someone who’s calm persona is now based on experience as well as his natural nonchalance, as the in-camp attention turns towards the Summer Tests that signal the beginning of the end for Rugby World Cup preparations.
“It’s intense – pre-seasons are always going to be,” said Russell.
“Two weeks on Saturday is our first warm-up game, so we’re starting to do more rugby stuff and work on our shape a little bit, as well as getting a lot of volume in there, as it’s still pre-season.
“The World Cup is two months away almost so, although it’s a long while away, we have warm-up games soon.”
For such a major competition to come so quickly in his career’s trajectory, it would be understandable that RWC2015, and Scotland’s dramatic exit from it, were seminal moments - or at least points of reflection or inspiration - for the 44-times capped 26-year-old, but again he plays down its importance in favour of looking ahead.
“It’s a long time ago now. It’s still there but, for me at least, I’m not going to be thinking about the last world cup. It was just an experience.
“I can use that to help myself and the team but I’m not using that to fuel what we’re going to do.
“Everyone wants to do as well as we can. If you don’t then what’s the point in playing rugby? Although it [the 2015 world cup exit] was disappointing, it’s not going to be a main driver for me.
“The main thing for me is developing as a player and a man, maturing and getting more experience.
"I’ve still got a lot of aspects about my game that I had back then, I’ve just developed them. You mature, you get more experience and you develop.”
While Russell may not feel he’s changed a great deal since he took to the field for the first time that day in Houston, the expectation on what he can deliver certainly has, as lofted double-misses, behind-the-back and no-look passes have become the familiar fodder of online highlights reels.
So how does he handle the mounting expectation? Does he at least accept it’s now a feature that accompanies his game? Some might think he relishes it, but Finn just shrugs and sees it as coming with the territory for the whole group, not just him.
“I don’t know if I thrive on it, but I suppose, over time, it’s naturally happened,” he explained. “I think the position, as a ten or a 12, you’re at the heart of an attack.
“As the ten everyone looks to you to ask ‘what can we do in attack?’ and I know personally, for me, when I first came into the Scotland side, I looked to Greeg [Greig Laidlaw] because he was the experienced one.
“Now I think myself and him work really well together. I think we’ve got a good balance of experience and, depending who’s at nine – I’ve played with Ali [Price] a lot there as well – I think we’ve got a good balance.
“You have to look to the folk close by you to get help. I like that. I like asking questions and seeing what they think – getting as many heads together as you can, rather than just one.
“I’ll be going to the centres, nines, full-back, whoever, and asking them what they think and making sure they’re doing their job. I don’t really know how to play wing, so I need to know what they want from me and they need to know what I want from them.
“It’s not one individual that’s going to get us to the quarters, semis or finals. It’ll need everyone on the same page come the weekend, or in training now getting the standards up.”
And with the end of that mature assessment the trademark grin returns, the Bluetooth speaker is reconnected, and the man still very much enjoying every second of what he’s here to do returns to the group for the short spell of downtime between sessions.