Richie Mo'unga names recalled Finn Russell 'my favourite 10 in the world'
Maverick playmaker Russell was left out of Scotland’s squad for the Autumn Nations Series with Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson preferred ahead of the 64-Test flyhalf but an injury to Hastings has seen the 30-year-old recalled ahead of this Sunday’s fixture with New Zealand.
With Kinghorn and Thompson still fit and able, there’s a very real possibility that Russell won’t take the field against the All Blacks but – as is typical when a high-profile player is dropped or recalled to an international squad – it was questions regarding Russell’s summoning back into the Scotland camp to which Mo’unga ended up spending much of his 10 minutes in the spotlight responding.
Afterall, Mo’unga – as the Scottish journalists were very pleased to learn – has faced off against Russell on one prior occasion despite this being his first trip to Edinburgh.
“We played each other at club level in Christchurch,” Mo’unga revealed. “We go way, way back and to see him since then become the player that he is now is awesome to see and I just know how awesome he is as a player. And also, a top bloke as well.
“He played for basically what we call the Canterbury ‘B’ team – which is everyone that goes to Lincoln University. He had Robbie Fruean outside him, he had Jordan Taufua at number 8, and we sort of just had enough to field a team. It was wet and he put on a show. He did all year.”
At the time, Russell was part-way through a four-month stint at Canterbury’s International High Performance Unit, and Mo’unga’s time rubbing shoulders with the Scottish No 10 has contributed to his admiration of the 30-year-old.
“I went to a Scottish school in Christchurch so I kind of thought we had a really good link before we even met,” Mo’unga said.
“I knew when he arrived the potential for him was [massive]. The sky was the limit in terms of what he could do back then. And to see him grow as a player and the confidence he has and the flair he has, I think, sort of separates him from any other 10.
“I love Finn. The last couple of years, he’s been my favourite 10 in the world. He’s someone that can play all types of games. His kicking, his running, his passing…
“I’m all for just admiring great players and some people have a player that they admire more than others and he’s probably one [for me]. You don’t have to say too much, his highlight reel speaks for itself. And the way that he plays. It’s just something that I enjoy watching.”
The chances of Russell starting in the 10 jersey for Scotland this weekend are slim but Mo’unga suggested that it wouldn’t affect the All Blacks’ preparations one way or another, regardless of who was named at flyhalf.
“For me, it’s probably more excitement that I could have a match-up with him,” he said.
“I just think that he has a lot of tools in his toolbox that he can pull out at any time of the game. He’s a smooth customer and he’s very balanced and he’s composed and I think Scotland will benefit hugely with him being in camp, even if he’s not playing. I think having someone like him around will lift the team.”
After beginning the year as Beauden Barrett’s understudy, Mo’unga has ostensibly taken over as New Zealand’s first-choice first five-eighth, making seven consecutive starts.
Both sides for the Murrayfield clash will be named on Thursday afternoon.
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