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'It’s not dangerous, I swear,’ says Finn Russell, wearing a cheeky grin as he juggles fire sticks in his back garden in Paris. It is close to 10pm. A dark night sky has fallen over the city and the rotating beam from the Eiffel Tower swoops overhead to a steady beat.
‘This’ll make the flames bigger,’ he says, dipping the batons into a jar of white spirit that he fetched from the basement.
As with rugby, Russell makes it look easy. ‘I’ve juggled as long as I can remember,’ he says, flames whipping past his face. ‘You start out with clubs and then you move on to fire. My dad taught me to do it.’
Finn Russell insists his fire-juggling trickery, performed at home in Paris, is 'not dangerous'
Not content with the basic 1-2-3 technique, he attempts a sleight-of-hand trick that ends up with a stray baton landing on the grass. ‘Dad’s better than I am!’ he says. ‘I’m overthinking it, trying to get in my rhythm, it’s best when you just go for it.’
A bit like rugby? ‘Yeah, I suppose.’
His partner, Emma, watches on from the living room. She has just put their two-month-old daughter, Charlie, to bed. ‘Smile!’ she yells, before Russell nails it not once, but twice. Rugby’s magnificent showman is in his element. ‘Do you want a go?’ he asks his reluctant audience, finishing up the fuel before retreating back inside to clear up the dishes.
Bolognese is on the menu, served up with a couple of warm baguettes. He pours a couple of glasses of red wine, Chateau Lafon Rochet, from the Racing 92 owner’s vineyard. No booze for Russell, though, just a pint of tap water.
‘Changed days! I can’t be doing that now I’m a dad. The Heineken machine’s downstairs in the basement with the juggling bits. The beer machine never really worked that well, anyway, came out too foamy. I’ve swapped it for a microwave to sterilise the baby stuff!’
Russell, who leads Scotland's Six Nations charge, has ditched alcohol after becoming a dad
There is a blackboard in the kitchen, covered in notes to chart Charlie’s development. First smile, first words, first steps. Over the coming days, Russell will leave his family home in Paris to join up with the Scotland camp. His first time as a father. He was dropped by Gregor Townsend at the end of last year’s Six Nations after breaking a curfew, having grown frustrated with the sport, but the No10 will return with a new outlook on life.
‘Everything pretty much changed overnight after I found out Emma was pregnant. Maybe I was waiting for something serious like a baby to come along and give me a reason to settle down. It gave me a reason to change. Not necessarily grow up, but take more responsibility. Some might not agree but I’m more responsible now.
‘Before Covid I was going out, having fun, making good money and spending a lot of money. If we’d had a big win I’d go wild. If we’d lost, I’d be picking up my spirits by having a laugh and forgetting about it. I used alcohol to deal with different scenarios, without really knowing it. I couldn’t go out for two years during Covid and I realised how much money I was saving. I didn’t really care before, because every month the money was coming in. I don’t look back and regret it because it was good fun and I was playing good rugby, but things are different now.
‘When I was living on my own I was just playing PlayStation, ordering food and playing PlayStation again. I’d stay up playing PlayStation until 2am and then sleep until midday on my day off. PlayStation was just a way to block things out. I was tired all the time, I put on weight and things eventually catch up with you.