|Lieu: Stade Murrayfield Date: Friday 23 October Start: TBC|
|Blanket: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, live commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
Johnnie Beattie is making a booming statement about Finn Russell’s shine and where the Scottish half-man’s game is right now.
Beattie, the recently retired background, spent eight years in France, where Russell leads the Top 14 with the swaggering Parisians Racing 92.
He considers Russell to be the best pivot the French game has seen in a decade – better than the behemoths of world champion Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and Handre Pollard, better than the Irish totem pole Johnny Sexton, and better than the fabulous Brock James from Australia.
“Dan Carter won two Top 14 titles with Racing 92, but he didn’t produce and shine at the weekly level like Finn does,” Beattie told BBC Scotland.
“The French absolutely admire his rugby IQ, his intelligence, his technical ability, the quality of the passing, the decision making – all of those things that if you were playing Championship Manager back then you were looking for. All these quality attributes that make the world. classy players, that’s what Finn brings every week.
“He’s probably been the top 10 in the Top 14 for the past 10 years. It’s a great statement, but there is no one who has functioned at this level consistently. He is miles ahead of the competition. “
Combs, pedes and French madness
Russell is back with the Scottish squad this week for the first time since the well-documented fraying of his relationship with Gregor Townsend caused him to leave the team hotel on the eve of Six Nations camp in February.
The story goes that the playmaker was confronted with teammates when he ordered a third beer, exceeding the limit agreed to two by the team. Russell later said the leadership group – of which he was a member – made the rule without consulting him.
He also spoke candidly and caustically about Townsend and the environment the coach presided over, dominating the preamble of an extremely important competition.
“When you leave Scotland and move to France, your eyes are open to what other clubs and countries are letting the players do,” says Beattie.
“There are All Blacks who can have 15 pints on a Tuesday night and play and play. Or you have French people who can have 15 queers on a Friday night. It’s crazy but that’s what you see.
“Then it’s hard to go back to where you feel a little more chained and roughly done.
“The Scottish team and the pro teams are a very tight ship. We don’t have the largest pool of players so we have to work our backs and maybe not deviate from a tighter culture or tighter rules. “
‘No ego or shock’
Townsend and Russell have, in the words of the coach, “much more connected” during the lockdown. The bridges have been rebuilt. Russell wants to come back and Stuart Hogg, the Scottish captain, desperately wants him to come back too.
“It was a pretty poor PR exercise for everyone,” Beattie adds. “We are a small country and we need our best players on the pitch. Arguments have been made, but you hope the boys with Gregor will be better as a team, ”he said.
“It’s good that they had conversations and between senior players as well. Hoggy played a big part in the initial conversations, as was [former Scotland captain] Greig Laidlaw.
“Gregor is still absolutely the boss, everyone knows it and understands it very well. Finn comes in and plays his part in the team and if it’s not him, it’s someone else and the same goes for everyone.
“There is so much water under the bridge, when it comes in I don’t see any egos or clashes coming back now. It’ll be great for the team because he’s an upbeat, entertaining guy and he’s good for morale. ”
“Scotland’s most influential actor”
Adam Hastings has thrived in Russell’s absence this year, performing admirably in the Truncated Six Nations, but there’s no doubt the Racing man is on another level.
Her post-lockdown form has been meteoric, as it has been for much of her two years in Paris. Russell delivered a superb kick that created the winning try in the dying embers of his side’s Champions Cup semi-final to conquer the Saracens.
“This game is completely unlocked with just one piece of majestic skill,” says Beattie. “To be able to run and lead the team with that level of skill, his performances with Racing, his performances with Scotland a few years ago, the position he’s leading the team in, he’s the Scotland’s 100% most influential player.
“Hoggy is just as skillful and electric, and silly in what he brings to the team, but he’s more there to finish things off or fight back.
“When it comes to the touches on the ball, the way you run the team and those moments of magic, Finn is absolutely defining in the way Scotland play. “