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The plan England have hatched to take away Finn Russell's 'weapons'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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New England defence coach Anthony Seibold is hoping the rearguard plan he has formulated can be executed to such an effective degree on Saturday that Scotland dangerman Finn Russell doesn’t become a match-winning threat in the Guinness Six Nations opener. Eddie Jones’ squad landed in Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon and all the selected matchday 23 fully trained on Friday in advance of the much-hyped Murrayfield showdown. 

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England demonstrated with autumn wins over Tonga, Australia and South Africa that the defence which ruptured during last season’s Six Nations is now being repaired with the Australian Seibold on duty in place of John Mitchell, who exited in July for a role at Wasps.  

The NRL recruit’s promptings helped to ensure that England head into the 2022 Six Nations believing they can make up for last year’s fifth-place mishap, but they will likely have their work cut out in their campaign opener with the maverick Russell pulling the strings for the Scots. 

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The 29-year-old Russell has hugely enjoyed himself in his recent appearances versus England, emerging as a winner in 2018 and 2021 while also leading the inspired comeback that secured an incredible Twickenham draw in 2019, so the focus is very much now on Seibold to see what he has planned to shackle this obvious Scottish threat. 

“A super talented player” was how the Australian described Russell during Friday’s captain’s run media session. “If you watch his club form in Paris (with Racing) he is playing outstanding and he brings that to the Scotland team. You’re talking about how do you take away his weapons? Well, obviously time and space. 

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“Finn Russell wants time and space where he can ball play. He has a very effective kicking game, both short and long, so you need to take time and space away from Finn. That is easier said than done of course. Making sure that we go after Finn Russell, not in an outside our defence system way but we want to make sure we put pressure on Finn Russell and you need to win the collisions, you need to win the ruck and the ruck speed to be able to do that. 

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“It is not just what Finn does, it is what their forwards do to create momentum for Finn and he plays very effectively off the back of that. He is at home Saturday afternoon as well and we need to take away that home advantage and make that home advantage, which most people see as a weapon, we need to turn that into a bit of a burden for Finn. Who knows what the weather conditions are going to be like. It is expected to be cold and raining, so again we need to go and get Finn.

“Certainly he is a key player, he is a key positional player wearing the number ten jersey. Any team’s number ten is significant because in a lot of ways they are the quarterback, aren’t they? They execute the plays from an attacking perspective, they often have a really effective kicking game and Finn has got both of those. 

“He is a super talented player and Gregor Townsend has designed a game plan that allows him to not only play structured but also he plays that unstructured rugby so again we need to make sure we have a plan in place and we have done that. Now we need to execute that plan. 

“He is really good and (full-back Stuart) Hogg certainly is somebody in unstructured as well who is has got big abilities but a lot of the momentum, a lot of the space that they play with is built on the back of their forward pack and we need to take away that home advantage and make it a more of a burden.”

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