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How the Lions rated Finn Russell, their 11th-minute 3rd Test sub

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has given his verdict on how Finn Russell, his eleventh-minute Lions replacement for the injured Dan Biggar, fared in Saturday’s series-deciding defeat to the Springboks in Cape Town. The early first-half introduction of the Scottish talisman would have gone against the Lions’ plans for the third Test, the expectation being that Russell would only come into the fray in the latter stages of the game.


However, with Biggar crocked following his bruising tackle on Springboks midfielder Lukhanyo Am, Russell was given a much longer appearance than was envisaged and he went on to kick eleven of his team’s 16 points which were enough to have them level with the South African’s until Morne Steyn struck the 79th-minute penalty winner.

Russell’s game stats on the official Lions website credited him with 18 passes, two carries for a two-metre gain, one offload and one defender beaten and one tackle.

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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber on his team’s dramatic Test series win
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Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber on his team’s dramatic Test series win

On the debit side, though, there was one turnover conceded, one handling error and one penalty conceded, that concession happening when he collided high with Cheslin Kolbe and the TMO review resulted in the Lions losing a penalty that had been awarded to them for a Springboks infringement elsewhere in that period of play.

Russell hadn’t played for the Lions since a July 7 appearance off the bench in the Johannesburg win over the Sharks and his achilles injury left Gatland calling up Marcus Smith three days later as cover for fear that the Scotland out-half could be forced to quit the tour if the injury didn’t respond to treatment.

He eventually made his way back to full fitness and ultimately managed to displace Owen Farrell on the bench for the third Test decider. “He was good,” reckoned Gatland when asked about a replacement who played a considerably lengthier part of the match than planned. “We talked about moving the ball and it went through his hands a lot which was good. We shortened them up on a few occasions when we went to the fourth or fifth phase and that created space for us which was good.


“We were disappointed that he has dropped a ball in the air that he would normally take and he was a bit unlucky on the tackle and probably a left foot kick down the middle of the park wasn’t one of his best moments but he showed how quick he can get the ball through his hands and he created some stuff. For someone who hasn’t played a lot of rugby I thought he was excellent.”


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