September 10, 2019 / 5:19 AM / 7 days ago

Of style and stone, Russell the key to Scots' World Cup hopes

(Reuters) - From apprentice stonemason working out of a cold shed in Stirling to celebrated flyhalf lighting up the playing fields of France, the rise of Scotland’s Finn Russell is the stuff rugby dreams are made of.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Scotland - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 16, 2019 Scotland's Finn Russell scores a try Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Since earning his first full-time contract at Glasgow Warriors in 2014 Russell has established himself as one of the finest number 10’s in the world, his talents persuading French cracks Racing 92 to make him one of rugby’s highest earners.

While some feared the move to France would damage his international career, with Racing under no obligation to rest Russell ahead of Scotland matches, Paris has proved the perfect setting for the 26-year-old to grow.

On the pitch, Russell is challenged in every way possible, the Top 14 a league brimming with the cream of French talent and a sprinkling of elite foreign imports lured by huge contracts and the promise of superstar status.

Off it, he is soaking up the Parisian lifestyle, learning the language, broadening his horizons.

“I’m getting a lot more challenges here and I’m outside my comfort zone a lot more,” Russell told The Times. “I’m going to become a better player, and the experiences I’ll get off the field will be great for me as a person.”

It is all a far cry from the three years he spent training to be a stonemason after leaving school — building door frames, windowsills and walls. Safe to say, he will never take his new life for granted.

“On rainy days it could be pretty miserable,” he told local media of his previous trade.

“If I ever have a bad day at training, I think back to what it was like working in that cold shed.”

Russell has gone from strength to strength since swapping Stirling Castle for the Sacre Coeur.

Blessed with delightful invention and game-changing vision, Russell has added defensive steel and developed more of an instinct for when to be cautious and when to be cavalier, a more measured gunslinger.

None of that has dulled his instinctive genius with the ball, however, his performance against England in the humdinger of a Six Nations test this year one highlight reel pass after another.

Against Georgia in Tbilisi last month the standoff’s exquisite range of passing was on full display once more, an offload from his knees to Matt Fagerson that set up the Scots’ opening try the pick of the bunch.

In all he had a hand in four of Scotland’s five tries in their 44-10 victory that day. The Scots will be hoping for more of the same in Japan.

Editing by Ed Osmond

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