Finn Russell: 'I just try to have fun on the pitch' says Scotland fly-half

Finn Russell
Finn Russell could win his 20th Scotland cap against Australia
Autumn Tests: Scotland v Australia
Date: Saturday, 12 November Venue: BT Murrayfield Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Watch on BBC One; listen on Radio Scotland 92-95FM and online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Finn Russell has barely had time to pause for breath since he burst on to the professional scene.

His status grew at such a rapid rate from rookie Glasgow Warriors fly-half to undisputed holder of the Scotland number 10 jersey that it's easy to forget he is not yet two-and-a-half years into his international career.

Scottish rugby writer Alasdair Reid posed the question ahead of Russell's Test debut against the USA in June 2014: "Has a player ever gone into his first Test looking more relaxed than this?"

Russell has taken pretty much every obstacle in his stride from that moment since, and the pleasing thing is he has retained the same relaxed attitude to his rugby.

"There has been a lot in the last two-and-a-half years since I've been playing with Glasgow and Scotland," the Warriors fly-half told BBC Scotland.

"Got to the [Pro12] final twice, won the league once, played the World Cup, couple of Six Nations, so there's been a lot jammed in there.

"Everything for me has just been a new experience so I've just enjoyed it as I've kept on going. I can just have a laugh all the time. I don't get too fazed by it all.

"Although I missed the summer tour [to Japan], I had a bit of time off to reflect on everything which was quite good."

That enforced period of reflection came about in fairly horrendous circumstances.

Finn Russell
Russell has suffered no ill-effects since returning to action after a serious head injury

A serious head injury suffered in last season's Pro12 semi-final defeat by Connacht had some even fearing for his future in the game, but as Scottish rugby held its collective breath, the man at the centre of the concern was typically untroubled.

"Even that night in hospital I made a joke to my big brother and he burst out laughing," Russell said. "The nurse didn't know what was happening, but my big brother found it funny and I think since then I've not really been affected by it at all.

"I think more so it was for my family. My wee brother's in Thailand and he saw it in the news and I think he got a wee bit of a shock from it. My mum and dad who were there got a bit of a shock. But I've been fine from it, I've not really had any affects from it. Just back to how I was."

No risk, no reward

When contemplating which of the international superstar fly-halves the former Stirling County man would have based his playing style on (let's call it 'no risk, no reward'), one comes to mind. Although he confesses there was "nobody I really idolised" growing up, he offers the very same name as his interviewer.

"Carlos Spencer was a 10 that tried things that if he pulled them off they were amazing, but if he didn't people questioned why he tried it," Russell says of the maverick former New Zealand fly-half.

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Glasgow Warriors and Scotland fly-half Finn Russell answers quickfire questions.

"The way I play, if I see something I'm going to try it rather than go with the safe option all the time.

"It might be a bit risky, but that's one thing that [Scotland head coach] Vern Cotter brings, he gives players confidence to try things. If they don't pull it off it's on them, but as long as there's a reason behind what they tried then it's worth the risk if it's a good reward at the end."

A further obvious comparison is with his Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend, a similarly threatening 10 with ball-in-hand in a playing career that saw him scale the heights of a Five Nations title win with Scotland in 1999 and a Lions series win in South Africa in 1997.

Under Townsend's tutelage, Russell has been educated in all aspects of being a complete international 10, rather than just the ability to dip into the box of magic from time to time.

"I've learned a lot from Gregor," explained Townsend's protege, who has gained 19 caps since breaking into the national team.

Carlos Spencer
Russell says he admired the attacking style of former All Blacks fly-half Spencer

"Him being my coach has really helped me, being a young 10 breaking into the scene. He's helped me not just with my running game but a lot more from the tactical side of it.

"I've had to learn that it's not just all about running the ball and trying things from everywhere, you've got to play the tactical side.

"For a lot of people I think if they're enjoying the sport and enjoying the game then they'll play better. I like to have fun when I'm on the pitch."

Australia quarter-final - 'We came so close'

Russell and his team-mates will test themselves against Australia - who "played outstandingly well" against Wales last weekend - at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.

It will be the first meeting of the sides since the unforgettable, gut-wrenching World Cup quarter-final defeat by the Wallabies at Twickenham last year.

Referee Craig Joubert's ill-judged penalty award saw Scotland lose at the death with a semi-final place in their grasp, so has the pain eased 12 months on?

"The team didn't dwell on it too much," Russell says more convincingly than you might imagine.

Gregor Townsend, Vern Cotter
Townsend and Cotter have both encouraged Russell to play with natural attacking ambition

"We were still hurting from it a month or two after it but everyone does realise that it's a game, it's sport and these things happen.

"We played so well that game and came so close. All the boys, although we were down after losing because we had given it our all and given it our best shot, we had to take it on the chin and just get on with it.

"Sometimes it just doesn't happen."

Lions ambition

All individual performances from home nations players - domestic league, European club competition, autumn Tests and Six Nations - will be judged in a wider context this season, with the Lions tour to New Zealand on the horizon.

Russell cannot deny the thought of pulling on the famous red jersey donned by British and Irish rugby's finest has not entered his head, but it remains at the back of his mind rather than the forefront.

"For all the boys playing at international level it's definitely an ambition to play for the Lions," he added. "It's the highest honour you can get for a British rugby player.

"It's still six or seven months away. It's on your mind but I'm not really looking too far forward.

"I've only just come back from injury so I'm just getting back into playing with Glasgow and hopefully with Scotland so I'm just looking forward to having a crack at the autumn Tests and then build from there."

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