Finn Russell: Richie Gray backs Glasgow & Scotland fly-half to flourish at Racing 92
|Champions Cup: Glasgow Warriors v Montpellier|
|Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Date: Friday, 8 December Kick-off: 19:45 GMT|
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Moving to the French Top 14 will benefit Scotland star Finn Russell as a player and a person, as well as the national team, believes Richie Gray.
Glasgow fly-half Russell, 25, will join Racing 92 next season on a reported £700,000-a-year contract.
Former Warriors lock Gray is currently with Toulouse, having also played for Castres in the French top flight.
“He’s going to one of the top teams in Europe, so he’ll get that experience and exposure,” Gray said of Russell.
“He’ll learn different things from a lot of new people around him and I’m sure he’ll grow as a player.
“For Scotland, I completely understand that it’s difficult to lose a player of Finn’s calibre. However, it shows where Scottish rugby is at the moment, that Scottish players are getting more and more attention, and they’re growing. I think that’s a positive thing.
“There are two pro-clubs in Scotland. I’m sure they’ll be disappointed Finn has moved on, but there are guys that come through and gain more experience. Potentially Pete Horne, or young guys like Adam Hastings. That’s how you grow your depth.”
‘You’re up against massive men every week’
Gray, 28, has 64 Scotland caps and represented the British and Irish Lions on their victorious tour of Australia in 2013, making a substitute appearance in the decisive third Test.
The towering second-row sat out the autumn internationals as he continues to recover from summer back surgery, but says he is “very close” to a return, with the Six Nations Championship two months away.
The Top 14 is home to many of rugby’s biggest players – 130kg Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, and hulking props Uini Atonio and Ben Tameifuna, both over 140kg, are among the brawniest specimens in France.
Gray says playing in this land of behemoths has helped “toughen him up”.
“You go up against massive packs and massive men every week,” he told BBC Scotland. “That was the first big adaptation I had to make, to get used to these bruising battles week in, week out.
“It is a little bit slower. However, with Finn, he might want to come over and inject that bit of pace and flair which he likes to play with.
“That [physical] aspect of my game, my line-outs, my rucking, my scrummaging, my close-quarter play, has improved in the years I’ve been over here. I certainly think I’ve made some gains in that aspect of my play.”
Club and country
For Scotland supporters, that testimony may sound alarm bells. Fly-half is the position in which the national team can least afford an injury, and no longer will Russell operate under the keen gaze and control of the Scottish set-up.
“It’s a tough situation because yes, you’re not in your union, so maybe you can’t be looked after as well leading up to games,” Gray said. “But it’s really about the conversations you have with clubs.
“If I look back to the Six Nations, we played Ireland, France, then it was the bye week. Toulouse were playing Montpellier, but the coach said, ‘Richie, you’ve played a lot of games, take this week off.’
“In fairness they’ve been generous to me here. I’d hope it hasn’t affected my Scotland career too much. Naturally if you move away from Scotland it’s going to be a little bit more difficult.
“The big thing for me going back into working with Scotland is trying to get up to pace with everything they’ve been doing, and trying to readapt in a short space of time to new calls and methods. That’s probably my biggest struggle.
“It’ll potentially make things a little bit harder but he’s a great player and I’m sure he’ll be fine. I don’t think Scotland fans should be worried. I think he’ll adapt well.”
Land of riches
As well as the bulkiest players, French clubs have deep pockets.
Gray concedes the vast salaries on offer do have a bearing on potential newcomers, but says there are many personal benefits to living overseas.
“I’d be lying if I said money doesn’t come into it,” Gray admitted.
“However, you take everything as a whole and I’ve loved my time here, enjoyed it from a cultural point of view, met some great people, learned a lot about myself living abroad from quite a young age, so there’s a lot more to it than simply money.
“When you’re in Glasgow, you’re in your home town, you’ve got family and friends around you, you’re well looked after.
“But when you move over to France, you don’t speak much of the lingo, I remember the hot water wasn’t working, and you’re going, ‘I can’t speak a word of French, what do I do?’
“Little things like that, you just have to fend for yourself a bit more. I’d like to think I’ve grown up a bit quicker.”