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Russell steals limelight for Scotland in impressive win over Georgia
The Racing 92 stand-off pulled the strings for Gregor Townsend’s men.
Finn Russell stole the limelight as Scotland put on a show in their final World Cup audition with a 44-10 thrashing of Georgia in Tbilisi.
The Racing 92 stand-off pulled the strings for Gregor Townsend’s men as his control and decision-making saw him have a hand in all four of the Dark Blues’ tries.
Ben Toolis crossed over first inside a quarter of an hour before Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson boosted his chances of snatching a seat on the plane to Japan as he marked his first start with an impressive double.
Forward Karlen Asieshvili pulled one back for the Lelos but Darcy Graham and Scott Cummings completed a comfortable win as Townsend prepares to unveil his 31-man World Cup squad at Linlithgow Palace on Tuesday.
The Georgians are famed for the hulking size of their pack but Scotland’s brains overcame the one-dimensional brawn of Milton Haig’s side.
Russell is responsible for much of that cerebral might. Townsend saw no reason to take any risks with his health as replaced his talisman midway through the second half with his place in the travelling party an absolute certainty.
Scotland were looking for only their fourth away win in their last 12 Tests but there was almost a 53,000 sell-out crowd at the Dinamo Arena willing the hosts to hand Townsend’s team another bloody nose on the road.
With the Scots the first Tier One nation to ever visit the Caucasus, Georgia were keen to make an impression.
But their over-eagerness at the breakdown gave Scotland a string of early penalties.
Skipper Greig Laidlaw punished their in-discipline – some of it astounding in its stupidity – by slotting over two simple penalties straight in front of the posts inside the opening 11 minutes.
Russell made his first major contribution three minutes later as he found a gap and drove through. Before Georgia knew what was happening, support had arrived on the playmaker’s shoulder and the ball was quickly fed through the hands of Matt Fagerson, Laidlaw and finally Toolis, with the big lock given the luxury of time to jog in and dot down.
Four minutes later and Russell was instigating things again. His clever kick set Graham scampering forward as the Georgian lines were punctured again.
As the Lelos scrambled for cover, Scotland kept their composure as Russell pulled the ball back to Hutchinson, with his dancing feet giving his marker the slip as he cantered in for the second touchdown.
Soso Matiashvili and Laidlaw traded penalties just before the break but Scotland extended their lead in the 47th minute with Russell at the centre of it again.
He took the ball to the line before dropping it back for Blair Kinghorn. Hutchinson then arrived at the perfect moment to speed through for his second.
But Georgia at last gave the home support what they had come to see as Asieshvili barged over in the 57th minute.
Just as it looked like their reliance on blunt force would be foiled after a series of drives were repelled by the Scots, the prop finally got the momentum he needed to steam past John Barclay and Jamie Ritchie on the line.
But there was still time for Russell to make one last magical contribution before he made way for Adam Hastings as he set up Scotland’s fourth try with 18 minutes left.
Substitute Josh Strauss smashed over the gain-line to get Scotland back on the front foot and Russell’s grubber kick laid the ball on a plate for Graham to dive on top once it had crossed the whitewash.
Lock Cummings then underlined his stake for a World Cup place when he barged through again late on to round off a resounding win.