Scotland ready to fulfil potential at World Cup, says fly-half Finn Russell
Finn Russell believes the real Scotland are ready to emerge from the wreckage of their injury-hit Six Nations and take the World Cup by storm.
Having had to do without a number of key players earlier in the year, Gregor Townsend’s squad are almost back at full strength ahead of Sunday’s Pool A opener against Ireland.
Back-rower Jamie Ritchie will not be risked as he steps up his recovery from a broken cheekbone while Exeter flanker Sam Skinner was the only casualty to be ruled out before the tournament.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, on the other hand, has fitness concerns over centre Robbie Henshaw and full-back Rob Kearney.
Now fly-half Russell reckons his side are primed to show their true capabilities.
“We’re excited going into the World Cup,” the Racing 92 man told the PA news agency.
“The Six Nations was up and down – it all seemed to be games of two halves. Against Italy the first half was great, then we let in three late tries. We had a good first period against Ireland too but slipped off again. Then the England game was like that but in reverse.
“What was frustrating was that we never really managed to put in an 80-minute performance. In a World Cup against the best teams on the planet you have to put in a 80-minute display every game.
“But it should be the real Scotland we see now. This is the main stage, the World Cup, so if it’s not the real Scotland we see then it will be disappointing for all of us.
“On our day, if we get things right we’re definitely capable of getting out of the group. From there it’s knock-out rugby and you take it game by game.
“We’re here to do our job and give our best performance. If we stay injury-free I think we’re in a great position to do that.”
Russell still had his professional L-plates on when he tasted World Cup action for the first time in 2015.
But he has matured into one of the game’s most creative playmakers in the time since and will be the man Scotland turn to for inspiration in Japan.
And the 26-year-old is thriving on that responsibility.
He said: “Four years ago I’d only been playing international rugby for a year. In fact I’d only been playing professional rugby for 18 months.
“So it’s slightly different now!
“The game’s moving on a lot but I’m more experienced. You have to adapt as things change.
“Looking at my two warm-up games I probably kicked the ball more than I ever have. Kicking’s becoming more of a factor these days in terms of attacking. If you can’t go through a defence you have to go over them.
“So my game-management has come on a lot from the last tournament.
“I like being seen as one of the team leaders. People say it puts a weight on your shoulders but I don’t mind it. I’m pretty chilled out – but I’m also happy to say what I think is best for the team.
“People expect that of you when you’re one of the more experienced guys and I’m happy to take it on.”
Sunday’s clash at the International Stadium could come down to a battle of wills between Russell and Irish superstar Johnny Sexton.
The British and Irish Lions fly-half has endured a difficult 2019 but Russell dismissed suggestions his rival’s powers are on the wane.
He said: “Johnny’s a classy player. He was World Player of the Year last year so he’s still up there with the best.
“He always leads Ireland really well. He’s had quite a few injuries lately but his influence is definitely still as strong.
“I don’t know what goes on in their camp but the feeling I get from the outside is that he is as respected as the coaches in what he has to say.”