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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Finn Russell’s big deal with Bath shows he’s far more canny than he’s ever given credit for

Finn Russell often projects a "daft lad" image, but he's made the absolute most of his earning potential in his career.
Finn Russell often projects a "daft lad" image, but he's made the absolute most of his earning potential in his career.

Well, the first reaction was ‘wow, nearly £1m a year is pretty rich for Scotland’s fourth-choice stand-off’.

I’m not going to leave that particular bone alone for a while. But Finn Russell’s new contract at Bath is startling even without Gregor Townsend’s decision at the Autumn Test selection.

In actual fact, Finn’s moved up only a place to third in rugby’s rich list. He leapfrogged Eben Etzebeth’s £900k a year deal at Toulon.

Russell, remember, has been paid around €1m a year (£850k) during his entire time at Racing (Handre Pollard at Montpellier and Charles Piutau at Bristol are the highest earners on £1m a year).

Among Scots, Finn’s still way short of the basic £2.6m paid to Andy Robertson and £1.3m to John McGinn. Football’s lucrative bonus structure will massively enhance those figures weekly.

Finn’s well behind Robert MacIntyre’s annual earnings (although very little of his is guaranteed, of course) and everyone still pales into insignificance to what Andy Murray earns annually even as he winds down his brilliant career.

Europe’s best paid rugby player for most of his career

But for Finn – who divides opinion, not just with national coaches – it’s quite something to have been the best paid player from any of the European nations for what will eventually be nine years of his career.

And this new deal comes as Finn is now 30. Jonny Sexton is 37, of course, but the Irish talisman is wrapped up in cotton wool and plays just over half of Leinster and Ireland’s schedule of season games.

And even then, he still is fairly injury-prone. Bath will want Finn playing every week.

Their massive investment in Finn is intriguing. Not least because of the apparently differing philosophies of the player and his new coach Johan van Graan.

But Finn has never been the complete maverick that many say he is – ‘you could win by 30 points or lose by 30’, Sky’s Will Greenwood once said, risibly, in commentary.

As I’ve written in this column before, I can’t think of a single game Russell has cost Scotland as much as a try by something outrageous he’s done in his 65 caps.

Russell can play within structure much better than many people think. He’s become an excellent tactical kicker, and his peerless distribution skills would enhance even the most rigid system.

What does it mean for Scotland?

But the other intrigue is what are Bath actually getting for their money? A player who will be out of their control for multiple weeks a year when he’s away with Scotland?

I have no conviction for what follows other than assumptions. Russell is as inordinately proud to play for Scotland as anyone.

“He made out he didn’t care, but you know he really does’ a mutual friend told me after the initial autumn snub. But he’s had a few ‘adventures’ in his time down the way.

It wouldn’t entirely surprising – if regretful – if he decided next year’s World Cup was a good time to step back from the international game. He’s recently become a father, and his priorities are different.

There’s no plan to massively elongate his international career here, as Ireland did with Sexton. Scottish Rugby couldn’t nearly afford it anyway.

Instead, you’d think, it’s quite the opposite. Finn’s taken the option of absolutely maximising his career earning path, both in the last six years with Racing and the next three with Bath.

That could now also mean focusing on his new base more than constant flights to and from the Scotland training base at Oriam.

It’s also an option that shows Finn’s been miles more canny than the daft lad image he often projects. Good for him.

Reasons NOT to be cheerful, Pt 3

In our continuing series of things that make us pessimistic about the Six Nations – I’ll have you all as depressed as I am come February – no-nonsense pragmatist Steve Borthwick was confirmed as head coach of England this week.

The chances of the English reverting to their actual strengths rather than Eddie Jones’ curious ways are now far greater.

I think their morale is probably still fairly fragile – the number of games they faded in the final quarter under Jones was an obvious clue of that. But Scotland can definitely expect a ‘new coach bounce’ at Twickenham on February 4.

Into the bargain, Hamish Watson has now joined Darcy Graham and Zander Fagerson on the ‘doubtful’ list for the Six Nations opener. Even more worrying, he’s consulting a neurotrauma specialist about head injuries.

Is there really room for Heineken Champions Cup rugby anymore?

Once the cornerstone of the domestic season, the Heineken Champions’ Cup has lost its lustre.

To the point where you wonder whether it’s worth the bother.

Gloucester, one of English rugby’s shibboleths, clearly don’t think so. They sent an “academy side” to get scragged 57-0 by Leinster last week.

Ireland appears to be the last with real unanimous enthusiasm for the event. There are pockets of interest elsewhere, teams with a legacy in the competition – Toulouse, Saracens, La Rochelle more recently.

But Racing looked utterly disinterested in their game against Leinster the other week, and the Castres side at Edinburgh last week were well short of full strength.

Domestic competitions are far more important to the French and the English clubs. That causes dismay among the Irish for whom the Heineken ranks second only to the Six Nations. Leinster habitually run a second XV in the URC.

But it’s reflected in the competition schedule, which has seen a much-reduced pool stage. From six rounds – two pre-November tests, two in December, two in January – there’s now just four.

And that was the result not just of French and English club self-interest. It was also rugby’s still-unsustainable schedule, which asks too much of a limited pool of leading players.

Unless weeks are freed up elsewhere – fewer November tests and domestic championship games for example – I don’t see room for a serious European competition that everyone can be committed to.

That’s sad. But it’s the reality.