GLOBALISATION of rugby is changing the face of the game. And here was the evidence. There was a high degree of familiarity, with both sides fielding players from Edinburgh, Newcastle Falcons, Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92. In fact, the latter provided both stand-offs in the shape of Finn Russell and Ben Volavola.
Russell is the senior man at the Parisian outfit and here he showed why, eclipsing his colleague at the Top 14 outfit with a classy show in which he offered flashes of exuberance without reaching into the high risk section of his extravagantly equipped toolbox.
Older than Russell by almost two years, Volavolo was born in Sydney, Australia, to an Indian father and Fijian mother in 1991. He spent his formative years living in the Fijian capital of Suva, before moving with his family back to Australia at the age of nine. He represented the Wallabies at Under-20 level.
Last summer, he signed for Racing from Bordeaux-Begles where he had tussled for the ten shirt with Simon Hickey – now with Edinburgh. With Pat Lambie currently out injured, Volavola and Frenchman Raphael Lagarde are jostling for the role of understudy to Russell. Here was a chance to make an impression.
The Fijian struck the first blow when he banged over a penalty with only a minute on the clock then fired out the pass that took the Islanders within touching distance of the Scottish line.
Gradually Russell worked his way into the game, performing the straightforward tasks well as the Scots seized the initiative with tries from Allan Dell and Fraser Brown. Signs of the Russell swagger were there – a flip through the legs, a couple of looping passes and the hallmark alertness.
However, the head-to-head between the two playmakers swung back in favour of Volavola when he converted a try by Edinburgh’s Bill Mata then arrowed a long pass to Tevita Cabubati who freed Sami Radradra for a touchdown that Volavola converted.
Russell was soon back on the front foot – a cheeky grubber kick almost unlocking the Fijian defence before a crunching tackle on a rampaging Campese Maafu showcased the Scot’s defensive skills.
But it is for his vision in attack that Russell is best known. And he illustrated just why when, with the Fijians short-staffed after Leone Nakarawa joined second-row colleague Cavubati in the sin-bin, Scotland applied pressure – taking a pass and instinctively picking out Tommy Seymour who was lurking unmarked near the right touchline. The winger dotted down and the hosts went in at half time with a 21-17 lead.
And Russell restarted in the same vein, his beautifully weighted distribution creating the space that ultimately led to Sean Maitland crossing the whitewash.
Having been in the shadow of his Racing team-mate for some time, Volavola sought to redress the balance with a dodging run from inside his 22 and a long-range penalty attempt that drifted wide of the target.
The focus in the duel of the pivots switched back to Russell who was now enjoying himself. A seemingly casual cross-kick forced Radrardra to concede a scrum as he carried over his line just ahead of Stuart Hogg. From the set-piece that followed, Seymour bagged his second try of the match.
And the Glasgow Warriors man completed his hat-trick when he finished off a slick move as the Scots unleashed their pace to slice open the Fijian defence after Volavola had missed touch with a penalty.
The arrival of Adam Hastings as a replacement for Pete Horne saw Russell finish the game at centre. However, he still had a contribution to make to a strong finale from the home side. He stroked over the conversion after Jamie Ritchie’s try a couple of minutes from full-time, then took a pass from Hastings and darted through a gap before drawing the final defender and returning the compliment for the youngster to bring up the half century of points. Russell banged over the conversion to complete a good day and reaffirm to Volavola – if proof was needed – that he is the boss.