We are, by now, all familiar with Finn Russell’s tongue in cheek comparison to Argentinian legend Lionel Messi. That line came in the first episode of Full Contact where Russell was shown to struggle against England but was bailed out by the exceptional try of Duhan van der Merwe and teammates who kept Scotland in the game.

Whether it was the Netflix producer’s intentions or not, that episode showed that for all Russell’s brilliance, he can’t do the job on his own and it’s dangerous to expect him to.

During the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Scotland massively underperformed in the two games that really mattered against Ireland and South Africa.

READ MORE: South Africa have plan for Scotland 'magician' Finn Russell

They didn’t score a try until 144 minutes into those two matches and scored an average of 8.5 points.

At the time, anger was predominantly, and understandably, focused on the draw. Scotland had been dealt a brutally tough group as they had to skip past at least one of either Ireland or South Africa.

Now, in the cold light of day, misfortune might retain some of the blame but most has to land with the players and coaching staff. Their performances against the big two teams lacked any incision and a promising run to the tournament had a limp ending.

So what needs to change ahead of this Six Nations?

The key is to accept that Finn Russell can’t do it all by himself. At the World Cup, he averaged 61 attacking touches per 80 minutes, that’s carries + passes + kicks. The average was just 43 for the other fly-halves and during the last Six Nations, when Russell wasn’t playing, Scotland’s replacements had 46 attacking touches. In this case, more isn’t more though.

Russell is an exceptional player, Scotland’s best and arguably the best fly-half in the Six Nations. You might justifiably say that giving him the ball is a good idea. The problem is that it becomes horribly predictable.

Scotland Rugby News:

If we look at where Russell has been at his best; Racing92 last season and Bath so far this season, he hasn’t been asked to play the same role. With Racing he had 37.4 attacking touches per 80 minutes, the third most in the league after Mathieu Jalibert and Nicolas Sanchez. With Bath it’s been 30.9, which is 13th out of 26 players.

Both teams realised that you need to surround Russell with talent who can take the pressure off him. Scotland have leant fully into their own unique style which puts Russell at the heart of everything.

The Scottish attack is, hopefully was, based on a concept called overloading an edge. Most attacks will try and keep two sides to their attack at all points. Wherever the ruck is on the pitch teams want at least the option of attacking either way.

Scotland Rugby News:

That allows them to tie defenders on either side and hopefully give them the ability to overload in one direction. Scotland don’t do that. They can attack in either direction, but once they’ve decided which way to go they all go in that direction.

The plan is to cause chaos on the side they attack and they back themselves to pick the right option amongst that chaos.

You can spot this during matches if you just watch Russell’s movement. He shifts to the left and the backs all follow him, he shifts to the right and the same thing happens.

The challenge is that when you create that overloaded chaos, you’re liable to get caught up in it yourself. They want to throw too many options at the defence but you then need to pick the right option.

If you don’t, or force a pass that isn’t on, you present perfect turnover ball to your opponent.

One of the challenges Scotland have is that they’ve not regularly started a second playmaker. That makes sense of course given how they like to play the game but they will probably need to break the Huwipolotu axis if they wish to go down that route.

Scotland Rugby News:

That will be controversial as the centre pair have been an exceptional part of Scotland’s recent successes. They might have a ready-made fit though with Cameron Redpath occasionally filling in this role for Bath.

However Townsend wants to play it, Scotland need some variety to their play. The over-reliance on Russell is not helping them to succeed.

They need a few things to tick, including more penetration from their forwards, but that playmaking balance is crucial for getting the best out of this squad.

Let’s look to see if Gregor Townsend has a solution to make his team less predictable.