Fraser Brown: Calling Finn Russell a ‘maverick’ is hugely disrespectful - he’s one of the best 10s in the world and proved it on Saturday

I think Lions tours have to be about more than just a ‘winning at all costs’ attitude. Whether you’re playing club rugby on a Saturday afternoon or facing down the world champions for the third weekend in a row, we are all competitive and no matter what the competition, we all want to win.

Finn Russell chips the ball through a gap in the South African defence during the Lions' defeat in the third Test. Picture: Halden Krog/AP
Finn Russell chips the ball through a gap in the South African defence during the Lions' defeat in the third Test. Picture: Halden Krog/AP

The Lions should be about so much more, though. It should be about the best players, the best coaches, the best rugby minds of British and Irish rugby coming together to take on the southern hemisphere heavyweights in a battle of rugby philosophies. What we’ve witnessed over the last three weekends, in my opinion, was some way short of our best version of rugby. At times on Saturday the Lions showed what they were capable of and what could have been if they had chosen to play with pace and tempo from the first Test but, instead, they tried to out-Boks the Boks. It’s a tactic that has rarely, if ever worked.

There were encouraging moments on Saturday, almost all of which were ignited by Finn Russell after his introduction as a Test Lion in the 11th minute. On several occasions the Lions got in behind the Boks defensive line with some simple flat balls from 10, some well worked offloads and for the first time in three Tests, moving the ball wide.

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If Dan Biggar hadn’t got injured then who knows when Finn would have got on, or if he would have got on. We might only have seen him if the Lions had been 10 or 15 points down and needed to pull something out of the hat.

For the British & Irish Lions players, the tour of South Africa is an experience they will never forget. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
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What he showed - and you saw it in his first five minutes on the pitch - is that he is one of the best 10s in the world. He really is that good. There is a lot of rubbish said by commentators, pundits, and fans alike that he’s a “maverick” and that if he plays, you’ll win by 20 or lose by 20.

It’s hugely disrespectful and shows just a very lazy and ignorant attitude to one of the game’s best entertainers. He plays for one of the top teams in Europe. He has guided Racing time and time again deep into knockout rugby and has demonstrated his maturity and game management at Test level for Scotland over the last few years. He was exactly what the game needed and it’s just a shame he was injured for the first two Tests because if someone of Finn’s ability had been involved it might have been a different series.

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There are still doubters out there and I think that’s because Finn’s persona is very casual. If and when he does make a mistake, he brushes it off and that can irk some people. Rugby nowadays, and particularly Test rugby, is all about control. Every coach, every pundit - they talk about control and I don’t think coaches like the idea that they are not in control when they have Finn at 10.

I’ve played a lot of games with Finn and your heart is in your mouth at times but you never doubt his ability or his temperament. I genuinely believe that he thinks that if he does make a mistake, it doesn’t really matter because he’ll make up for it ten-fold by the end of the game.

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He sees things others don’t and he sees them in a moment’s glance. Some of his flat passing is unbelievable. There was a clip highlighted on the TV on Saturday in which Ali Price was at the ruck for about half a second and Finn was clapping his hands and screaming that he wanted the ball because he had already seen how tight Mapimpi was defending. He wanted to get the ball through his hands and fizz that flat pass out wide.

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He plays at a different tempo to others and in modern rugby that gives a lot of coaches the fear because they can’t control that.

The Lions paid for a lack of accuracy, particularly in the second half of the first half, because they were hugely on top in that period.

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When they increased the tempo and played with pace and power, they destroyed the Springboks and created opportunities which, unfortunately, they didn’t execute.

The Springboks were on the ropes, clinging on for survival towards half-time. How different the outlook might have been had the Lions managed to convert their chances.

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None of this should take anything away from what was a monumental achievement by South Africa. To have not played international rugby for the best part of two years and go straight into a Lions series and win is something else.

South Africa were very poor in that first Test, a mile away from the side that won the World Cup in 2019, and even in the first half of the second Test they looked off the pace, but something happened at half-time and South Africa emerged rust-free and full of belief.

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People can criticise them for slowing the game down, for a lack of attacking flair and for looking to go from set piece to set piece but that’s always been their game plan. They have spent 25 years perfecting it and it has won them three World Cups. They are big, big men and need to slow the game down at times in order to catch their breath so they can go and repeat phase after phase of brutal physicality.

You can’t criticise South Africa for playing the game they did but you can criticise the Lions for not taking advantage and trying to increase the tempo.

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The series win is even more impressive when you consider the usual home advantages which were taken away from South Africa. All three Tests were all played at sea level in Cape Town so there was no altitude for the Lions to deal with and, of course, there were no home fans.

Winning can hide a multitude of flaws. When you win, people quickly forget style of play, selection issues and contentious decisions. But when you don’t there are always plenty ready to point the finger. To be part of a Lions tour is something so special, something very few are ever fortunate enough to experience. For those players it will be an experience they will never forget and nor should they, win, lose or draw.

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