Finn Russell weaves more magic for Scotland to raise roof at Murrayfield

<span>Finn Russell’s demeanour and outlook played a significant part in Scotland’s victory against England.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA</span>
Finn Russell’s demeanour and outlook played a significant part in Scotland’s victory against England.Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

There have been more memorable Finn Russell performances against England. More spellbinding interventions and more unforgettable moments of magic in this fixture but there cannot be many more fitting examples of what makes him such a special player than his assist for Duhan van der Merwe’s third try – the score that ultimately determined that Scotland would retain the Calcutta Cup.

England’s blitz defence had done a proficient job of limiting Russell’s influence with ball in hand up until that point. He had largely kicked when presented with possession up until the 45th minute and Ollie Chessum and Ollie Lawrence had paid him close attention throughout.

Related: Scotland end England grand slam hopes with Van der Merwe hat-trick

Russell spotted the opportunity for something different shortly after half-time, checked and stepped before deciding he would kick but, such was England’s line speed, he was charged down. Cameron Redpath, only just off the bench, scrambled, gathered and set off on a dazzling run that had England reeling. He was eventually shackled but by that point, Russell was demanding the ball before measuring a perfectly weighted crossfield kick to the onrushing Van der Merwe. He was nailed by an England tackle just after executing the kick but Russell has never shirked that kind of challenge.

The point here is that so many other fly-halves would have been dwelling on their mistake just a few seconds earlier. Russell’s greatest strength is his ability to shrug off mistakes and here was the perfect demonstration of it. This was not a particularly cohesive Scotland performance but they were ruthless when the opportunities came their way and it was enough, truth be told comfortably so, to see off an England side whose numerous limitations have now been exposed.

Equally, Russell’s ability to play what he sees is infectious. It is certainly catching for Van der Merwe, who now has six tries in four appearances against England and was deservedly named man of the match. He tormented England at Twickenham last year and he did so again 12 months ago back on home soil.

If Scotland’s victory was borne out of individual opportunism rather than executing a gameplan to perfection, credit them too for the manner in which they fought back after falling 10-0 down inside the first quarter.

This is no longer a fixture that scares Scotland or one in which falling to that kind of early deficit would lead to panic. Russell’s demeanour and outlook has played a significant part in that too considering he has now notched up five wins and a draw in his nine encounters with England.

Because, by the time the first quarter of the match was almost up, nigh-on everything that might have gone wrong for Scotland proceeded to. Russell gave the home crowd something to cheer inside the opening 20 seconds with a delightful basketball-style offload to Blair Kinghorn but the Murrayfield faithful soon fell silent after George Furbank’s opening try.

A couple of minutes later Scotland lost their tighthead prop Zander Fagerson for a head injury assessment – something he seemed confused by and his head coach, Gregor Townsend, far from happy about. All be told it was a scrappy opening, countless handling errors and no real flow to the game. It is in those passages of play that Russell seems marginalised but the fly-half did his best to inject tempo into proceedings by taking the kick-off after George Ford’s penalty quickly and winning his side decent territory and possession as a result.

It was just before the clock hit 20 minutes when Scotland sprang into life. Russell had warned that if it were not him pulling the England defence apart then “we might have to go through Sione Tuipulotu or Huw Jones or Blair Kinghorn”. You wonder if England were paying attention because Ben White fed Tuipulotu, rather than Russell, and the inside-centre put Jones through the blitz defence and away before Van der Merwe dotted down.

His second, scored with tail well and truly up, was a peach. It was opportunist, too, but outpacing Ben Earl, who is no slouch but had been wrongfooted, Van der Merwe arced his way towards the left-hand corner before straightening in a manner which evoked memories of that Gareth Bale goal for Real Madrid, when the Welshman took the long way round to score against Barcelona. England were rattled by that and for the next few minutes the sort of chaos in which Russell thrives ensued.

Once Scotland had built a lead that England were always going to struggle to make up, Russell turned the screw, kicking long, kicking quickly, kicking penalties and keeping his opponents at arm’s length. His composure was made all the more apparent by the torrid time Fin Smith had for England after coming off the bench. Smith will come again, he is too talented not too, but chalk this up as another day for his namesake.