Finn Russell: Scotland star’s rise from pre-match burger and chips to leading Six Nations fly-half

Meeting point: Stade de France, Paris Date: Sunday, February 26 Inception: 15:00 GMT
Cover: Live coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and online.

From pre-match burgers, crisps and a pint of Coke with Glasgow Warriors to being the best-performing fly-half in the Six Nations, Finn Russell’s status is at an all-time high .

The 30-year-old has put behind him last season’s controversial falling out with Scotland boss Gregor Townsend to inspire his country to a two-win first start to a Six Nations campaign.

Russell is currently the leading points scorer this season, has had more carries than any other number 10 – as well as most metres, most passes, most assists, most kicks in the game and most kicks.

Ahead of Saturday’s crucial trip to Paris to face a French side ranked second in the world, Russell spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live Daily Rugby Union on his idiosyncratic career and Scotland’s chances of winning the title.

“I tend to eat whatever I like before games”

Having left school at 16 to train as a stonemason, Russell admits he was never your typical rugby bloke.

A teammate’s suggestion that his diet includes the famous deep-fried Mars bar proves cryptic as he reveals “I’ve never really had one.”

“But when I first started in Glasgow, I used to have burgers, chips and a pint of coke,” admits Russell. “That was my pre-match – a few hours before the game obviously.

“Monday through Friday, I’ll eat normal healthy meals and then in those 24 hours before a game I tend to eat whatever I like to feel good to go into that game in a good head position.

“Even in the gym, I’m not doing as much and I’m probably not pushing myself as hard as I can. But I think I’m doing everything I need to do to prepare for that game this weekend.”

It’s an individual approach that extends to his analysis of upcoming opponents.

“I will do what I have to,” he stressed. “Sometimes I’ll be there at 11 or 12 at night. Every week, I figure out what I need to do and what I feel I need to do – whether it’s more analysis, more rehabilitation on my shoulder, or more kicking.”

“Back on good terms” with Townsend

Russell admits his relaxed approach can sometimes be mistaken for indifference, such as when he laughed as he walked off the pitch after being sent off for the first time in his career while playing for Glasgow under Townsend.

“I’m lucky – I’m not really affected by mistakes,” he says. “I tend to laugh and move on to the next thing. When I’m annoyed, I just laugh.”

His relationship with Townsend soured when Russell, who had already been disciplined for an unauthorized night out with team-mates during last year’s Six Nations, was left out of Scotland’s starting Autumn Nations Series squad.

However, he was soon recalled and believes he and the Scotland manager have forged a “good relationship” where they can “challenge each other” without either of them thinking “he doesn’t like me”.

“I didn’t have my best season last year,” admits Russell. “So I was probably a little disappointed with that and how I was playing and how the team was playing. Something wasn’t working.

“And, before I came back in November, I had to clear a few things up with him. Nothing off the field. There were two different systems we were trying to use and they just weren’t quite working and I think that probably led to me becoming frustrated.

“This year, we’ve been a lot more clear on how we want to attack. Me and Gregor work very closely together. I’ll see different things with him, but we have a really open and honest relationship where we can just chat about it.”

Having moved from Glasgow to Racing 92 in 2018, Russell found – partly due to the language barrier – “let me do my thing” by the French top-flight’s managers.

“Coaches have to continue to get better at managing players to get the best out of them instead of being in the gym and having to hit targets and, whenever you’re off the pitch, you have to behave like that,” he said. he adds.

“There will always be rules and protocols for teams, but the better you know your players, the better you can influence them as individuals. .”

Scotland ‘haven’t played to their full potential yet’

Whatever his relationship with his Scotland and Racing managers, it is effective and Russell’s average of a line break every 15 passes far outstrips any other half in this season’s Six Nations.

France’s Romain Ntamack has one in 24, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton one in 40, England’s Owen Farrell one in 41 and it’s one in 46 for Wales’ Dan Biggar.

Indeed, while Russell’s kicking has been a major factor this season, Townsend is trying to encourage his half to run more with the ball as he prepares to devise a way to beat a French side where he has a particular insight.

“It’s about finding patterns in the defense that you can then pick on,” says Russell.

“They obviously have a very good defense and they have big forwards. Good set and scrum and a back three very dangerous in attack. But there are some opportunities there. Hopefully I can find some patterns that I can pick apart.”

Finding those patterns – while he and partner Emma juggle the arrival of first child Charlie – was vital as Scotland beat England and Wales despite a lack of ball, making the most of their goalscoring opportunities.

Russell realizes that there is not only room, but also a need for improvement.

“In terms of winning the title this year, people were saying the Ireland game would be massive, but we still have France in France,” he adds.

“Yes, we’ve won two games, but I don’t think England or Wales were at their best. France and Ireland will be a lot tougher than those two. We’ll have to push on again for that France game.

“It’s exciting because we have the maximum points, but we haven’t played to our potential yet.”

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