Finn Russell has brushed off suggestions Scotland are a one-man team – insisting it will take a collective effort to make their World Cup campaign a success.
Critics of Gregor Townsend’s side claim the Dark Blues only soar when stand-off Russell is on song. But the talismanic playmaker is adamant he is only able to pull off his party tricks of audacious faints and no-look passes with the help of his colleagues.
Scotland will need the Racing 92 star to be at his maverick best if they are to escape the group stages when they travel to Japan in two months’ time.
But Russell says he has no plans to do it all on his own and will instead rely on a support network to help Scotland shine in the land of the rising Sun.
“I’d only been playing professionally for about 18 months, maybe a little more, at the last World Cup in 2015,” said the 26-year-old at the squad’s temporary training base at St Andrew’s Old Course Hotel.
“Now I’ve got five and a bit years under my belt and it is different. I developed as a player, as a man. I’ve matured and got more experience.
“I think the position as a 10 or a 12 means you’re at the heart of the attack so I’ll be trying to help my team out and take the lead on the attacking side.
“As a 10, everyone looks to you for how we can start an attack. I know when I first came into Scotland, I looked to Greig (Laidlaw) because he was one of the experienced ones.
“You have to look at the other folk around you for help. I like that. It does have to be a collective approach.
“No team can rely on one individual. I’ll try and take a lead on the attacking side, but I’m going to be going to my centres, my nines, my full-backs, whatever, and asking them what they think, because they’re doing their job as well.
“I don’t really know how to play wing, so I need to know what they want from me, and they need to know what I want from them.
“I think when the team plays well it’s easy for me, the 10, to be the guy that’s controlling the game. If I’m on my game then it’s going to be easier for them.
“It works hand in hand, but I don’t believe it’s one individual that’s going to get us to the quarters or semis or final, wherever we get to. I think it’s going to have to be everyone on the same page.”
There is certainly evidence to back up those who believe Scotland are at their most dangerous when Russell performs.
March’s Twickenham thriller saw England threaten to blow Townsend’s hesitant line-up away before half-time – only for Russell to urge a change of tactics in the dressing room before spearheading a stunning second-half fight.
But if Scotland want to plan for life beyond a pool containing Ireland, Russia, Samoa and the hosts Japan, then he admits he cannot afford the sloppy periods that cost them during this year’s Six Nations.
He said: “I need some consistency, but I’m still going to keep playing the way I’m going to play. At the World Cup with four group games, you need to be at the top of your game to get out of the group.
“I’m just going to make sure I’m in the best shape I can be, and prepared as well as I can for the World Cup.
“I don’t want to look back and think if only I did this or that differently. I’m just going to keep doing the same, but I want to be in the best shape and mentally in the best place I can be for it.”
Several established Scotland players could be left disappointed as Gregor Townsend prepares to swing the World Cup axe, assistant coach Danny Wilson has warned.
The Dark Blues have stepped up their preparations for the tournament in Japan with a training camp in St Andrews and Wilson says competition has never been fiercer.
Head coach Townsend was forced to adapt during this year’s Six Nations as injuries left his original blueprint in tatters.
But that opened the door for rookies like Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner and Darcy Graham to impress and all took their chance.
Now, with the casualty list clearing, Wilson admits there will be surprises when the current 44-man training squad is slashed to leave the group of 31 who will board September’s flight to the Far East.
He said: “We’re in that nice fluffy time when everyone’s getting on really well because there’s no selection, but that’s around the corner for us.
“I’m seeing a Scotland squad that – touch wood – is all fit and I’m seeing lots of competition for places and an intensity in training.
“Genuinely there’s places up for grabs. The bonus of the Six Nations this year is that players got opportunities off the back of injuries, but those players took those opportunities.
“That gives a real selection headache when players come back fit.
“In Scotland we need that competition and depth, and the bonus from the Six Nations is that we’re developing that.”
Wilson was brought in last year to replace forwards coach Dan McFarland after he was head-hunted for the top job at Ulster.
Under Wilson’s predecessor, the Scotland pack was a well-oiled machine, but it has taken the former Dragons, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues set-piece expert time to get his ideas across.
However, the three-month build-up to Scotland’s first Pool A clash against Ireland in Yokohama on September 22 has given him ample opportunity to get to the bottom of the problems that blighted Townsend’s team as they finished fifth in the Six Nations with just a win and a draw.
He said: “The time makes a huge difference. Before a Test match you’re trying to ram a huge amount in.
“This is far different, like a pre-season, so you’ve got a chance to work on the finer detail.
“Slowly but surely (I’ve been putting my stamp on things). It’s been well documented that during the Six Nations we had a different group in terms of the injuries we had.
“Now to have the likes of John Barclay back in the squad, to work with these guys and see a healthy squad that we didn’t have during the Six Nations, it’s been good for me to build relationships and spend more time on the training pitch.
📸 The Scotland squad returned to training this morning with a focus on skills, srummaging and shape, before a series of conditioning-based games.— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) July 30, 2019
This week also sees the first wear of our new training kit 👌 pic.twitter.com/4zfFA6NhN0
“During the Six Nations we were number one at scrum time on our own ball, but we need to improve on opposition ball a bit because sometimes we were under pressure.
“Line-out wise, our ball was also pretty good, the drive attack and defence was reasonably good.
“We probably want to affect opposition ball a little more, because perhaps we set a foundation to make sure no-one drove against us, but it affected our ability to steal in the air. We need a balance moving forward.”
Scotland’s prep work for Japan has already started bleeding in aspects that will ready them for the hot, humid conditions they can expect in Japan as Townsend looks to avoid a costly slip.
“Obviously, Gregor having such an eye for detail, we’ve been working on a lot of things,” said Wilson. “We’ve even been training with a wet, slippery ball because of the humidity we can expect in Japan.
“We’ve put in place all sorts of bits and pieces to give ourselves the best chance to settle in quickly.”
Mike Brown has revealed that England’s heat camp in north east Italy is causing players to shed half a stone in weight during gruelling training sessions.
Treviso was picked to host the 12-day visit due to the similarity between the conditions there and Japan, the setting for this autumn’s World Cup where humidity for September is an average 73 per cent.
The level drops only slightly in October when the majority of the competition will be played and former Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones knows that central to a team’s prospects will be their ability to acclimatise.
Brown has suffered along with his team-mates in the first of England’s two Treviso camps, insisting they are more punishing than playing Test matches.
“It’s incredibly tough. It’s been about 80 per cent humidity so as soon as you step outside, everyone starts sweating,” Brown said.
“You are absolutely dripping with sweat and that makes ball-handling very tough. It’s also hard to keep your core temperature low because you are sweating all the time.
“It just sits on your skin and then heats up even more so you can’t get your body temperature down. It’s really sunny here as well so you’re constantly feeling incredibly hot.
“We have guys coming on and spraying us with cold water and we’re constantly trying to wipe the sweat off you so your skin gets the chance to cool down.”
England’s World Cup hopefuls, who will be trimmed to a final 31-man squad on August 12, are weighed before and after each session.
“On our first really hard session I lost 3kg of weight. Back in England, I would barely lose any weight from a normal session in normal conditions,” Brown said.
“After a Test match, I would probably lose a maximum of 1kg. And that’s playing at the highest level under massive fatigue. So that puts into perspective the weight loss that you can get over here.
“The nutrition guys make sure you get the right things after training to put that weight on. We have protein shakes and bars, fruit and liquids with proper salts to get the hydration back in.
“Once you have taken all the right things, we will go and eat lunch and you are pretty much back on it by the afternoon session. It’s no problem as long as you do the right things.”
Brown’s presence in Treviso seemed improbable at the start of the month after England’s most capped full-back was left out of Jones’ initial World Cup training squad.
The Harlequin had been frozen out since winning the last of his 72 caps on the 2018 tour to South Africa but now has now been offered a glimpse of selection for Japan 2019.
“You have that doubt at the back of your mind when you’re left out, but Eddie said just be ready,” Brown said.
“I went straight back to Quins and was welcomed with a Bronco fitness test. That was pretty savage. I was over the moon to get the chance to come back in and continue.
“I am a competitive animal and I absolutely love playing for England, it means everything to me.
“It’s great to be here and I am trying to show what I am about and show what I can bring to the team.”