Mike Blair pleased with Finn Russell’s progress since move to France

Finn Russell has always had the flair to light up a match but Mike Blair believes the Scotland playmaker now has the patience to control an entire 80 minutes.

The 26-year-old has made a made an impressive start since swapping Glasgow for a big-money contract at French giants Racing 92 in the summer.

But while the latest additions to his highlights reel, be it the off-the-cuff chip he produced against Champions Cup opponents Ulster or any one of the numerous no-look passes he has pulled off, have stunned the Parisian faithful, it is the poise Russell has shown in the crucial moments that have made Blair sit up and take notice.

The Dark Blues assistant coach has experience himself of playing in the Top 14 with Brive and knows there is more to the French domestic scene than just throwing the ball about.

And he says the increased emphasis on discipline and control is already making an impact on the Scots’ maverick talisman.

Blair, speaking ahead of Saturday’s Test clash with Fiji, said: “I think Finn’s had a great start to the season. He’s enjoying himself and when Finn’s enjoying himself that brings out his best rugby.

“I think he’s got a good balance to his game now. In France you typically kick a little bit more than you’d imagine. You think of the French league and think they throw it around from anywhere but there’s a little bit more structure there.

“He’s had to manage games but he’s also had games he’s had to play a lot more. That game-management thing, they put a lot of onus and pressure on the nine and 10 in France to deal with those areas and he’s done that well.”

Russell will pull on a dark blue jersey for the first time since the Six Nations when he starts against the Fijians.

Greig Laidlaw also returns as skipper and the captain believes his half-back partner is ready to take his game to the next level.

“Since he’s settled in to Racing I think you can all see what a quality rugby player he is,” said the scrum-half, who recently faced up his international colleague while playing for French rivals Clermont Auvergne.

“He’s going really well in the Top 14 as well as Europe and I certainly knew before he left Scotland that he’s a quality rugby player.

“Is he ready to take his game to the next level? I think he will in the long run. I think he’s only played 10-odd games so far so that’s difficult to say. But he was already there before he left.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Greig Laidlaw is back to captain Scotland against Fiji on Saturday (Jane Barlow/PA)</figcaption>
Greig Laidlaw is back to captain Scotland against Fiji on Saturday (Jane Barlow/PA)

“He’s a wonderful talent and one I’m looking forward to playing beside tomorrow, as are the other boys because he’s very good at finding space and reading defences. Against a team like Fiji that’s a great trait to have.”

The Scots know how exactly how dangerous the Pacific Islanders can be after slipping to a 27-22 defeat in Suva last year.

But Laidlaw insist no chances are being taken this time, saying: “They’re going to be a challenge, there’s no denying that. They’ve got some excellent players and I play with two of the guys down in Clermont in Percile Yato and Setariki Tuicuvu, who is a tremendous talent.

“They’ve got some tremendous attacking threats throughout the field, but so do we, and that’s why we’re really looking forward to playing in front of a packed BT Murrayfield tomorrow.”

- Press Association

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