Scottish flyhalves Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend are almost the same size: six-footers who play(ed) at about 93 kilograms.
A centre during many of his 82 Tests for Scotland, the cerebral Toony had Finn for pace, but Finn has more tricks from hand and is a bit more robust in the tackle.
Both are Lions; but Finn has yet to actually take the field as one.
Toony’s father, grandfather, and uncle by marriage played top level centre in the Borders region of Lowland Scotland.
Finn’s father was sacked (illegally, it was later determined) by the Scottish rugby union, whose top executive, Mark Dodson, was especially lambasted by the presiding judge for unfairness.
Dodson is Toony’s benefactor, from Glasgow days, and did not impose a requirement of a formal World Cup review or post-mortem. Dodson’s misconceived power play over Hagibis cost SRU £70,000 and lost immense good will, but Dodson is on £933,000 for his 2019 work. His triad of assistant executives all make more than any other Home Union chief executive.
Finn is the only man in Scottish rugby with a bigger rugby salary than Dodson. The darling of Racing 92, this ‘Blue Knight’ owns more Scottish Test highlights than any Jock ever. He can unlock any defence. He is decent from the tee; as was Toony.
He’s not as well-educated. A young Townsend studied history and politics at world-class University of Edinburgh, attended a 400-year old academy, and topped off his education with advanced studies in statistics in Birmingham. Finn was a stonemason for three years, after being a schools prodigy. He isn’t an academic.
Townsend is careful with words. He is cosmopolitan, having lived and played in Australia, South Africa, France, and beyond, learning languages, cultures, and defeat along the way.
His autobiography, ‘Talk of the Toony,’ is well-written, with more French phrases than Finn can utter even now, in Paris.
Townsend is self-deprecating in his book: seldom mentioning a game he starred in, more often describing horror outings for club and country. He pulls quotes from scholars and poets.
Finn gave an interview to the Sunday Times about his perspective on the 2020 Six Nations soap opera; he chose a rather non-Toony stance for his glamour athlete pics. Legs astride, bold, staring, defiant, and challenging.
He wanted us to know that SRU’s attempt to paint him an alcoholic for wanting more than two pints of lager upon arrival at the Scottish Six Nations camp from Racing 92’s match against Saracens, is a gross lie.
Whilst SRU hasn’t come out and said Finn has a drinking problem, they surely suggested it, by pushing only part of the Russell-Townsend breakup.
Finn spoke less of beer and more about trust, fun, communication, and relationships. He claims all of these are absent, with his coach. The message was clear: it’s him or me. Toony or Finn.
A Test rugby coach always wins, right up until he is fired. So, there is very little hope for Scottish fans to see Finn in this Six Nations, unless maybe Townsend’s team goes down to Italy, and continues the horror trajectory after that glorious Finn-authored second half of the 2019 Calcutta Cup.
Toony wasn’t always the rules-oriented company man. Yes, he writes his young life was built on pillars of family, school, church, and sport. Yes, he preaches Calvinist modesty in his (long) book.
But he was no stranger to the pub, before and after matches. And he had his own standoff with a Scottish coach, Dougie Morgan, and contemplated giving up rugby in his early 20s, over communication and respect issues with Morgan on a disastrous tour of Argentina.
In his autobiography, Toony describes raucous pre-match bar nights with strippers (almost busted by SRU execs), slipping a sleeping pill to Sharks prop Deon Carstens, a teammate caving in a windshield with his “hairy arse,” kilt lifted, on tour, getting “as drunk as possible” on Australia tour with Bundaberg rum; he used these drinking tales as the rhythm of his rugby odyssey.
Without the pub angle, his book might cost only $2 instead of the current $4; the truth is it is boring.
And maybe that’s what Finn is really saying: there is a way to score 30 points in a half at Twickenham, after having three pints the night before, and not trying merely to lose gracefully, as he accuses Toony of coaching toward. That consensus is Finn rejected Toony’s ultra-structured game plan, and went on to spin several of the sweetest try-assist passes to go with a Townsend-reminiscent runaway intercept try. This may have embarrassed Townsend, who could be seen in the coaches box, devoid of emotion, stone-faced.
So, here they are, at impasse. Finn has crossed the line, by suggesting many other players agree with him about Gregor’s stifling style, but dare not voice it, because they are under SRU contract.
It may be that Greig Laidlaw would’ve quashed this row, as Finn respected him more than his mate-turned-skipper Stuart “Wee Hand of Stone” Hogg.
Or the two pint rule might have been idiotic, given Finn wasn’t even training the next day. Hell, Toony tells the story of his junior Scottish captain imposing a two-Guinness minimum on the eve of a big match.
Toony also wrote in his book that he preferred the way the Sharks ran game plans over any other team he played for: the coach sat down with Butch James, John Smit, and Gregor to reach a consensus. So, why is that not happening for Finn, the field general?
Or Finn may be an ‘infant terrible.’
But he is the most talented eligible Scot in the sport of rugby. He plays to win.
Townsend may have lost his inner Toony.
Who’s team are you on, Roarers?