Finn Russell stated that the World Cup draw was difficult, but that is just a normal aspect of sports and they could have performed better.
In the modern world of rugby, the most talented players are not always given the recognition they deserve. This can be seen in the experiences of Danny Cipriani and Quade Cooper, who have faced challenges as creative fly-halves with aspirations that go beyond what most coaches can envision. That is why it is refreshing to witness Finn Russell, a cheerful and skilled player, bringing a bit of holiday cheer to the typically dull and dreary midwinter season. Like an artist, he adds bright and skillful touches to an otherwise dull and uninteresting game.
The union between the Scottish muse and his new team Bath was not guaranteed to be successful. Even Russell was unsure if he and his South African director of rugby, Johann van Graan, known for his focus on forwards, would see eye to eye. Fortunately, the 31-year-old playmaker has seamlessly integrated and has sparked a boost in team morale along the River Avon.
The impact of the Bath attack coach, Lee Blackett, cannot be overlooked in the success of a team. However, a skilled fly-half can greatly contribute to a team’s confidence. Fly-halves must possess both technical and creative abilities, making them an integral part of a team. Russell, who will be playing against Cardiff in the Champions Cup, has proven himself to be a top-class fly-half.
Listening to him at a rain-drenched Recreation Ground in midweek was also to appreciate the value of sampling different playing environments. From Stirling County to Glasgow Warriors to Racing 92 in Paris to Bath – via an educational spell in New Zealand club rugby and a stint working as a stonemason – Russell has mastered the tricky art of staying true to himself while simultaneously exploring fresh horizons. “I think I’ve got a good balance just now of experience and age. I’m not trying to teach these boys anything new, I’m just showing them how I see the game, how I’m going to try and play it.”
His appearance is causing a noticeable stimulating impact. On the field, Ollie Lawrence and Cameron Redpath seem overjoyed. At scrum-half, Ben Spencer is playing like an English version of Antoine Dupont. Despite tough circumstances, Bath is starting to thrive, having pulled ahead of Exeter and Ulster in the last two weekends.
The only remaining question worth a million dollars is whether he and his team can maintain their performance. This is especially important in high-stakes matches, such as in the Champions Cup and Premiership, where Bath currently holds second place. As the recent World Cup showed, having a good style is important, but having substance is also crucial in winning major tournaments.
Russell has been wrestling with this issue while adjusting to family life in north-east Somerset. He now drinks green tea in the evenings, a change from his previous habits. He lives with his partner, Emma, and their one-year-old daughter, Charlie. Scotland had high hopes for their performance in France, but they were outmatched by South Africa, defeated by Ireland, and unable to advance past the pool stages.
The main conductor made the decision to move on from his troubles, stating “mostly so I didn’t have to deal with it,” and immediately immerse himself in the Bath experience without taking much of a break. Reflecting on his strained emotions, he now questions if he should have taken more time to recharge his mental energy. He expresses, “In three months when I return from the Six Nations, it may hit me because I didn’t give myself enough time to potentially overcome it.” He found it even more frustrating given the current team Scotland has and their strong performance. He believes it is one of the best teams he has played with for Scotland. Despite the challenging pool draw, he acknowledges that it is all part of sports and they could have potentially achieved more.
Another attempt – “I may have the opportunity to participate in another World Cup, or I may not,” he says. “But winning a British & Irish Lions tour in 2025 could ease some of that disappointment. However, at the moment, my main focus is on one goal. Even someone as laid-back as me desires to hold up a shiny trophy or two. Unfortunately, I haven’t won anything since 2015, except for Calcutta Cups and the respect of others. Russell poses the question, “Is the journey enough, or is it the trophy that truly matters?” as he ponders his accomplishments. “It’s a tough question to answer right now, while I’m still pushing and striving for success. I would have loved to win more titles with Racing, Glasgow, and Scotland. But I still believe there’s enough time for me to achieve that. And if not?” he contemplates, “In three to four years, I may look back and wonder if I could have done things differently to change the outcome.”
There will definitely be some regrets, especially Racing’s loss at the 2020 Champions Cup final against Exeter at Ashton Gate. Russell’s pass attempt was intercepted by Jack Nowell, leading to Henry Slade’s game-changing try. “I am still frustrated by that result because the statistics suggest we should have won.” However, his time in France helped him mature. “As a fly-half, it was beneficial for me as it broadened my overall understanding of the game.” He has also become more adaptable to different playing conditions. “My approach to the game has changed at times. Instead of always trying to play fast, I now consider whether it is the right style for the given circumstances.”
If the wintry conditions improve, Bath has the potential to be a strong team. Finding the right combination, Russell is confident that playing an aggressive style of rugby can lead to success for top-tier teams. He believes that even England has the talent to adopt this approach.
Although he still seeks advice from Tom Dunn, a hooker, for his expertise in the local area – “I even inquired about disposing of my garage door…he offered to take it and repurpose it” – there is no doubt that he is the one leading the Bath & West show on the field.
I have great belief in my ideas and I am capable of carrying out any goals I set. The team seems to be grasping my intentions and actively seeking opportunities. Even if Bath does not achieve success this season, their progress will still be worth observing.