With the touch of a magician, Finn Russell made all of rugby’s problems disappear on Saturday evening, if only for a little while. All the concerns about tackle height and brain injury, all the controversies of governance and finance and myriad issues about where on earth this troubled sport is heading vanished for 40 breathless minutes as the one-time stonemason built an insurmountable lead for a record-busting Scotland.
If you weren’t Welsh you could luxuriate in the excellence of what he did out there. The subtlety of his hands, the accuracy of his cross-kicks, the authority, the vision, the class. The daring. The ability to make everything look so simple and such fun.
Wales didn’t know what to do with Russell in that second half. The try that turned a sticky game into the beginnings of a rout was Kyle Steyn’s first one in the right-hand corner when Russell took out three Welsh defenders before offloading out the side door, like Sonny Bill Williams on his best day.
He did it at such pace and with such clarity that you could never tire of watching it. Russell gave the final pass or the final kick for three of Scotland’s five tries. He’s given the assist on 10 tries in his last nine Test matches since the beginning of last year, a number no other top tier player has matched in that same period. In full flight, Russell reminds us of why we fell in love with rugby.
Not for the collisions or the hard cases – for sure, they have for their place – but for the artists. Defence coaches are lauded now. The game is packed with experts with laptops spewing out video and data to aid game plans on how to neutralise people like Russell, but blessed are the days when attack triumphs over defence. And this was one of them.
When Scotland started to play with urgency the visitors must have felt like they were playing a game of Whack A Mole. No matter how many Scottish attackers they put down, another would pop up.
Duhan van der Merwe didn’t score, but he ran for 150m (almost 50m more than his Twickenham tour-de-force). Only Ireland’s Hugo Keenan topped him with a frankly absurd 205m against France in Dublin.