Finn Russell: Scotland are on par with the best teams in the world

Finn Russell in actions versus Australia
©Press Association

Finn Russell once looked up to Australia's star players as idols - but now he believes he and his Scotland team-mates can be considered every bit as good as the Wallabies.

The Glasgow stand-off was an influential part of the Dark Blues line-up that came within 30 seconds of producing an incredible upset victory over Michael Cheika's side on Sunday.

But a World Cup semi-final slot was stolen away from them after referee Craig Joubert's controversial last-gasp offside call - since admitted to be erroneous by World Rugby - handed Bernard Foley the chance to kick the winning penalty. 

Russell, though, is not leaving the tournament with his head bowed low following the thrilling 35-34 defeat at Twickenham. 

Instead, he believes the same side that lost all five of this year's RBS 6 Nations fixtures to claim the tournament’s wooden spoon have now shown they can now hold their own against any of the world’s elite teams.

He said: "I remember back in the day when I was younger I would be looking up at guys like Matt Giteau and Will Genia and thinking how great they were.

"But (on Sunday) we showed we were as good as them, if not better for spells of the match.

"We're a completely different team from the Six Nations - we're on par with the best teams in the world."

The Scots could not have asked for a worst start to 2015, but their brave display during their encounter with the Australians highlights the massive improvements Kiwi coach Vern Cotter has made since taking over the Scottish head coach role in May 2014. 

And Cotter’s mean looked on course for victory after centre Mark Bennett stormed under the posts with just seven minutes left. 

But then arguably the biggest result in the history of Scottish rugby was ripped from their grasp in the final moments when Joubert wrongly adjudged Jon Welsh to be offside after the ball had been batted backwards by Australia substitute Nick Phipps, not a Scottish teammate as Joubert believed.

"I don't know what to say about the decision," Russell said. "It's disappointing for us. It maybe should have been a scrum which could have changed the game. 

"But they got the penalty and Foley kicked it well. What can we do after that?"

But the Glasgow fly-half now believes the team can now march into next year's Six Nations as genuine contenders after coming so close to toppling one of the game's superpowers. 

He said: "When Mark scored, the boys thought we were nearly there. We just had to get the restart and exit and we'd be safe.

"The rain was coming down and that meant they would not have been able to throw it wide, which had been a dangerous tactic for them. 

"But Kurtley Beale put a good kick in and, although we then had the line-out that followed, we couldn't see it out.

"It was a real Scottish way of losing. We were so close but didn't get the win.

"We were up against a quality side like Australia and I'd say we deserved the win. We were outstanding. Although we're disappointed now, we can hold our heads high.

"We showed we can live with the best. For us to go and compete against a top-five side like Australia and only miss out because one decision went against us gives us a lot of confidence." 

Sunday's display from the 23-year-old capped of Russell's meteoric rise through the Scottish rugby ranks.

Two years ago Russell was playing club rugby with Ayr in front of a couple of hundred fans, but his inventive style of play that made him a key component at reigning Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors has also made him central to Cotter's international game-plan. 

"It was slightly different, I guess," he said with a wry smile after being asked about walking out in front of Sunday's 75,000-strong crowd. "It's not like playing at Millbrae (home of Ayr) or Falkirk.

"Everything is still new for me. I only got capped last summer so I'm still just trying to take everything in. 

"But I want to use these feelings I've got right now and use them as an experience to help me improve.”