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England legend: Curbing Finn Russell, and why Irish are title tip

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Former England prop Jason Leonard has explained what Steve Borthwick’s team must do to curb the influence of Scotland No10 Finn Russell in next Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener at Twickenham. He has also given his verdict on new England coach Borthwick and predicted that Andy Farrell’s Ireland will ultimately be crowned champions when the tournament ends in March.


Scotland have enjoyed an excellent record versus England in recent times, winning in 2018, 2021 and 2022 while also drawing in 2019. It’s a five-game run where the only English victory came at Murrayfield in 2020 and the legendary Leonard, who won 114 England caps during a lengthy career crowned by World Cup glory in 2003, believes the threat of Scotland out-half Russell must be dealt with.

“Finn Russell is a box of tricks,” he said. “He is a great player to watch. The back row of England have got to nullify Scotland’s ability to be on the front foot. With Russell, he is a wonderful player, but any fly-half will tell you that if they are going backwards and he is on the back foot, even though Russell is special, it would make his job with Scotland so much harder.

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“Having said that, it’s not all about one player, Scotland has got other good players too, but the match-ups, the two fly-halves on the day, that will be exciting. All England will be concentrating on is trying to nullify Finn Russell.”

This weekend’s round one Calcutta Cup fixture at Twickenham will mark the first match in charge for Borthwick, the new England head coach who succeeded Eddie Jones in December. What does Leonard make of the freshly appointed boss?


“As a coach, he is very technical. He is very good. A lot of the players that have worked with him previously have said how focused and technical he is but he’s also a great guy. He knows the pride of putting on an England jersey because he has done it himself and has been captain of his country. It’s a good time for the players to play themselves into the side with a World Cup just around the corner with players trying to impress in this Six Nations.


“That is what Steve will want from the players, giving it 100 per cent and collectively all together going forward. The World Cup is important, but it’s months down the line. It’s a cliche, but it is one game at a time and Steve will know this. Steve has been there as a player and now he is doing it as a coach. That puts England in a good place.”

That said, Leonard is tipping Ireland to be crowned champions. “Ireland are going to be the favourites because of how the games have been scheduled. Ireland has got their two hardest games at home, France and England,” he explained, speaking on behalf of investment platform Saxo and their partnership with Harlequins.

“France has also got to come to Twickenham, which historically has been a tough place for them. Ireland will probably play down their chances but I suspect they will be the favourites. They play great rugby and they have had some impressive wins. Their setup right now is possibly the blueprint for international rugby, the only other set-up that comes close to it is New Zealand.

“They can actually manage the players’ workload and their training, making them peak for certain games at certain times of the season. The English and the French seasons are a battle from the first game to the last game, where their players play the majority of the games for their club.


“In Ireland, they can pull players out. They will have a word with the clubs to make sure they are rested for a couple of weeks. Everything is there for Ireland. Is a Grand Slam possible? They will fancy their chances, having England and France at home and getting results on the road, They could do it.”


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