Six Nations 2015: Small margins holding Scotland back, says Russell
Glasgow Warriors outside-half believes the Dark Blues can still take a lot of positives despite losing all five matches
Finn Russell insists that Scotland are improving despite an RBS 6 Nations campaign that ended with a woeful whitewash as they lost 40-10 defeat to champions Ireland in Edinburgh.
Scotland being whitewashed is not an all too distant memory. It was only three years ago when it last happened with former head coach Andy Robinson quitting his job the day after a shock defeat to Tonga eight months later.
Losing five games isn’t the best Six Nations but, on the other side for us, there have been a lot of positives, and a lot of good rugby we can look back at.
Finn Russell on Scotland’s disappointing campaign
After a far from fruitful transition period with Scott Johnson as interim head coach, Robinson’s eventual replacement Vern Cotter began the new era in impressive fashion with a trio of wins last summer over the USA, Canada and Argentina.
That was backed up by try-scoring fests against Argentina and Tonga in November, and an improbable performance that saw the Dark Blues push the All Blacks all the way before losing narrowly.
Scotland’s losing record in the Six Nations now stretches to seven consecutive games and there will be a lot of head scratching in Scotland’s rugby heartlands and questions over whether Cotter is cut out for international rugby, despite his record at Bay of Plenty and Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne.
But Glasgow Warriors outside-half Russell maintains that there are positives to take from the campaign.
“For us as a team right now, it’s about building on the promising moments we have shown over these last five games,” Russell said.
“Losing five games isn’t the best Six Nations but, on the other side for us, there have been a lot of positives, and a lot of good rugby we can look back at.
“It is the small margins that are holding us back.”
Edinburgh Rugby number eight David Denton claimed after the Ireland defeat that Scotland can win the Rugby World Cup, but on the back of a disappointing Six Nations campaign, there won’t be many signing up to that belief.
Cotter will now have three months to reflect on his first Six Nations before he names his Rugby World Cup training squad, but he will hope for better luck on the injury front after losing key players before and during the Six Nations.
As individuals, if we tighten this up back at our clubs over the next few months going into the World Cup then the team will come back better.
The biggest indicator on where Scotland stand will be during the warm-up matches. Four have been scheduled. Away to Ireland and France, and home and away dates with Italy.
While Italy will be the target, Scotland really need to win in Dublin or Paris to go into the Rugby World Cup with fans believing they are capable of getting out of the pool stages.
Russell admits that winning the rugby showpiece is the Dark Blues’ target, but they have plenty to work on to be competitive when they open their World Cup campaign against Japan in Gloucester on 23 September.
“Every team’s target is to win the World Cup,” he added.
“For us, after this Six Nations, it will be about going down there, putting in some good performances and hoping results take care of themselves.
“I think we can turn it around. Having lost five games, no-one is going to be overly confident. No-one will expect us to do whatever.
“Our attack is working really well. We’ve scored tries in every game.
“The attack has been really good at times. It’s just been that last pass that hasn’t gone to hands.
“As individuals, if we tighten this up back at our clubs over the next few months going into the World Cup then the team will come back better.
“If we can do that, the passes that are not finding their man or the turnovers that cost us won’t happen and will lead to tries.
“A lot of the stuff we have played over the last few weeks has been good rugby. It’s just been small mistakes that at this level cost you.”
Russell admits the Six Nations has been an eye opener for him barely a year since he made his professional club debut in the PRO12.
I’m young and I’ve only had one year of pro rugby, so these last four games I’ve learned a lot.
The 22-year-old was propelled into the national team last summer and took the driving seat for Scotland’s November campaign ahead of team-mate Duncan Weir, who was ruled out of the Six Nations with an arm injury.
With Wasps’ Ruaridh Jackson also ruled out, Russell became Cotter’s first choice 10, but was forced to sit out the heart-breaking defeat to Italy after a disciplinary committee determined a challenge in the air with Dan Biggar in the Wales defeat was reckless.
“The big lesson for me is that in each game we have had a 10- or 20-minute spell where we have been on top, but then fallen asleep or taken our foot of the gas for five minutes,” he said.
“That lets the other team score a try and put the pressure back on us.
“For me as a playmaker and a decision-maker trying to organise guys round the pitch, I have to learn from that, and how I can get the team back on the front foot.
“I’m young and I’ve only had one year of pro rugby, so these last four games I’ve learned a lot.
“Saturday was my ninth cap, so I’m still learning about playing at this level.
“Things happen in the split second in these internationals and you can find yourself down by five or 10 points like that, so it does let you see, as a young player, just how quick the game is, and how good the teams are that you are up against.”