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The Dylan Hartley verdict on the Finn Russell danger for England

By Liam Heagney
Scotland's Finn Russell (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Former England skipper Dylan Hartley has shared his thoughts on the danger Scotland No10 Finn Russell poses. The retired hooker’s old team head to Edinburgh on Saturday looking to extend their winning streak in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations to three February games.

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Both countries will name their respective XVs on Thursday and ahead of the team announcements, Hartley told Gambling Zone what Russell may do to derail England’s title hopes as they are still adjusting to a new-style defence under assistant Felix Jones. “It’s a difficult task going to Scotland; it’s not what it used to be – they are a different animal,” he began.

“There is a genuine belief in this Scotland team. Finn Russell is an inspiration with how he plays and his whole demeanour and attitude lifts those around him. The attitude he has towards the game is infectious and he is the sort of player that the Six Nations needs.

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“We have seen England with their rush defence, with a whole new level of line speed. Finn is one of these players that can manipulate depth and he can even take the ball really flat and encourage the England defence onto him.

“Equally, he can goad the defence to come on to him quite deep and if you look at guys shooting out the line for England, putting pressure on fly-halves, Finn can put the ball inside, outside, on his foot and he can exploit that.

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“It will come down to who cracks first. Do England put his skills under pressure, or does he exploit England’s line speed? It’s going to be interesting,” reckoned Hartley, who added that he wants to see the fit-again Manu Tuilagi named to start in Steve Borthwick’s midfield.

“Manu is back in training. Fraser Dingwall and Manu Tuilagi are two completely different athletes. From what we saw from Steve Borthwick at the Rugby World Cup, he picks a team. He doesn’t have his XV – he didn’t at the World Cup, and he changes the team to suit the opposition.

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“He will pick a team to exploit Scotland and I can see a bit of Manu coming down Finn Russell’s channel. That’s no slight on Fraser Dingwall, who has done fantastically for England. Borthwick could use Manu at 13, but you have got Manu in the team. I would expect him to be in the mix somewhere.”

Not since the pandemic-affected 2020 championship have England won the Six Nations. Does Hartley believe 2024 success is possible? “If England beat Scotland, then they are contenders. England are quietly going about their business. It’s like England in the World Cup – nobody expected them to do anything at the tournament.

“They quietly go about their business and appear where they need to at the right time. If England get past Scotland, then they will be playing Ireland. Anything can happen at the Six Nations and any team can lose one game and still come out on top at this tournament.”

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