Gregor Townsend excited to have Finn Russell back in his Scotland squad

The Racing 92 ace could make his first Scotland appearance since the World Cup against Georgia.

By Press Association Published: 21 October 2020 - 12.43pm

Gregor Townsend says Scotland are welcoming back a new and improved Finn Russell as the maverick stand-off gets set to finally end his year-long Test exile.

The Racing 92 ace could make his first Scotland appearance since the World Cup when Townsend’s team take on Georgia at Murrayfield on Friday night after being named among the replacements.

The 28-year-old did not feature at all during this year’s Guinness Six Nations before it was put on hold by the coronavirus crisis after breaching team discipline with a late-night drinking session ahead of their opener with Ireland.

He later gave a newspaper interview in which he detailed the breakdown in his relationship with head coach Townsend, but the pair have patched up their differences and Russell will look to win his 50th cap off the bench against the Lelos.

And Townsend is excited about his return, saying: “We want him to bring his strengths, get back integrated into the group. It’s been a year since he’s played for Scotland and a year since he’s worked with these players and coaches.

Finn Russell has not featured for Scotland since the final game of last year's World Cup in Japan
Finn Russell has not featured for Scotland since their final game of last year’s World Cup in Japan (David Davies/PA)

“Finn’s integrated well, he took part in the session on Monday and trained yesterday. In training you see his skill level and it’s probably moved on a couple of notches since last time he was in the group. He’ll get up to speed pretty quickly and it’s exciting to see him back in the squad.”

Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final saw both the good side and the bad of Russell’s game, as he played a key role in both of Simon Zebo’s scores – only to blunder with an intercepted pass as Henry Slade was gifted the vital fourth try that saw international colleagues Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner taste triumph with the Chiefs.

It is that kind of risky manoeuvre that ultimately put him at odds with his national team coach earlier this year.

But Townsend is adamant Russell will be allowed to express himself when he is back in a dark blue jersey.

“I’ve chatted about his game at the weekend,” he said. “Any game you play there is going to be errors, and especially when you’re a 10 – and I should know that.

“We don’t want to take away from any of our players the ability to seize opportunities and make those decisions that they believe are right.

“But it’s great to see players having the courage to go for what they believe is right and with someone like Finn with his experience and skill set, those decisions will be the right ones far more often than they’re not.”

Hogg, Gray and Skinner are still down south as they prepare for Saturday’s Premiership final with Wasps and will join up with Townsend’s team ahead of next week’s delayed Six Nations curtain-closer with Wales in Llanelli and the Autumn Nations Cup.

Adam Hastings holds onto the 10 jersey having performed so admirably in it during the spring, while Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown will lead out the team in Hogg’s absence after being named captain for the first time on his 51st cap.

Newly-qualified Edinburgh wing Duhan Van Der Merwe makes his Test debut against the Georgians, while Warriors prop Oli Kebble could also make his first Test appearance if he is called off the bench.

And Townsend is looking forward to seeing his team back in action for the first time in 229 days.

On former South African schoolboy Van Der Merwe’s inclusion, he said: “He’s impressive, we watched him closely more this season than last now he’s available to us. He’s been very committed and receptive on what we’re trying to do in attack and defence.

“We’ve enjoyed seeing him train and anyone in the back three we want to see them on the ball. If he can get up to double-figure carries, that’s going to be good for us as a team. 

“We use the word improvement a lot so we’re not going to be changing things. We feel the game we’re putting together was a solid foundation.

“We just want to add to that and look to improve every session and every game over this seven-week period.”