Wednesday 17 January 2018

Russell faces baptism of fire against 'Les Rouges'

Finn Russell has looked self-assured dealing with everything in the past year
Finn Russell has looked self-assured dealing with everything in the past year

Alasdair Reid

French supporters might be choking on their cassoulet at the thought of watching their team play in red for the first time in more than 50 years, but their steadfast refusal to chant "Allez les Rouges" is unlikely to diminish the Stade de France's characteristically febrile atmosphere when Scotland run on to the pitch this evening.

In other words, young Finn Russell can expect a baptism of fire in his first appearance in the Six Nations Championship. The 22-year-old Scotland fly-half has made astonishing progress over the past 12 months - this time last year he was still playing amateur club rugby - but he has never experienced anything like the hostility of a French crowd.

"It will be different for Finn," said the Scotland assistant coach Duncan Hodge. "The Six Nations is very different to what he experienced last summer and autumn. There is a different level of pressure, but I'm sure he'll cope fine. We are lucky that we have had continuity of selection with the guys around him."

In fairness, Russell has looked self-assured dealing with everything in the past year. He handled the responsibility of taking the playmaking role in Glasgow's Pro12 final last May, and looked just as unruffled when he made his Scotland debut against the United States in Houston the following weekend. He might also have learnt a valuable lesson in his last game in France, a couple of months ago. Playing in Glasgow's Champions Cup clash with Toulouse, Russell was sin-binned for a tip tackle late in the first half. In the 10 minutes he was off, Toulouse piled on 13 points.

Russell looked ashen in the Scotland team hotel in Paris as he recalled that moment. However, he is not alone in appreciating the importance of discipline. In each of the past two Six Nations seasons, the Scots have conceded more penalties than any other side in the championship, and Hodge was adamant that they must improve on that front.

"Discipline is a massive part of the game," said Hodge. "The winning and losing of penalties means field positions and kicks at goal. It is something we have talked about. We get referees in to training, we watch footage and we try to analyse what's going wrong. The next stage is putting it into practice on the pitch."

The Scots came out of their autumn programme with wins against Argentina and Tonga, a narrow defeat by the All Blacks, and a sense that the squad have been energised by the arrival of Vern Cotter as head coach. More significantly, they also found a cutting edge in attack that had been missing for a number of seasons, scoring five tries in each of their wins.

Significantly, their lineout was near-watertight too, as they lost ball on their own throw only once in three games, yet stole opposition possession 12 times. Undoubtedly, they have the foundations of a very good game.

And France? Their three-quarter line of Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana and Teddy Thomas is the envy of every other nation. Small wonder that Cotter has stressed the importance of playing a tight game, although he will not want one so constrained that it is merely an arm wrestle, as France are adept at that form of martial art as well. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

France: S Spedding, Y Huget, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, T Thomas, C Lopez, R Kockott; A Menini, G Guirado, R Slimani, P Pape, Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt), B Le Roux, D Chouly

Scotland: S Hogg , T Seymour, M Bennett, A Dunbar, T Visser, F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford, E Murray, R Gray, J Gray, R Harley, B Cowan, J Beattie

Ref: N Owens (Wales)

France v Scotland,

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