Scotland holding out hope for Finn Russell appeal

Finn Russell in action during the Scotland squad training session at BT Murrayfield yesterday. Picture: SNS

Finn Russell in action during the Scotland squad training session at BT Murrayfield yesterday. Picture: SNS

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SCOTLAND coach Vern Cotter has called five players into his squad for Saturday’s Six Nations Championship match against Italy, a fixture for which he still hopes to have stand-off Finn Russell available.

Scottish Rugby confirmed yesterday that they would appeal against Russell’s two-week suspension for reckless play in the defeat by Wales. They only received the written verdict from the independent disciplinary panel yesterday, and, while they always intended to appeal the decision that was announced last Wednesday, could not proceed until receiving that verdict.

An appeal will almost certainly be convened this week, and if Russell’s ban is either cut to a week or overruled altogether he will be free to play in the home game against the Italians. As the ban applies only to matches, the Glasgow Warriors stand-off is still able to train with the squad, and did so yesterday alongside the five newcomers.

Sale Sharks scrum-half Chris Cusiter is back as cover for Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who is observing the established concussion protocol after sustaining a head knock against the Welsh. Props Moray Low and Alex Allan are direct replacements for injured duo Jon Welsh and Gordon Reid. No 8 David Denton is back, having recovered from the calf strain he sustained in training last month, and Adam Ashe, also a No 8, is included again after getting over a neck injury.

The injuries to Welsh and Reid mean there will be at least two changes to Cotter’s team when he announces it on Thursday. Cusiter will be on the bench as back-up to captain Greig Laidlaw should Hidalgo-Clyne miss out, while Denton and Ashe have played little rugby in recent weeks and will probably also have to be content with a place on the bench at best.

Russell will retain his place at No 10 if cleared, but the uncertainty about his availability is likely to impact on training, as potential replacements such as Peter Horne and Greig Tonks will also have to practise moves with the rest of the backs. Russell’s ban was imposed after he collided with Dan Biggar as the Welshman jumped for a high ball.

Sean Lamont, who is expected to retain his place on the wing, argued yesterday that the law under which Russell was suspended was in need of re-examination by the authorities. “The law’s quite old,” Lamont said.

“Maybe in the modern game it needs a little bit of adapting. Player safety’s a massive thing.

“If you’re throwing yourself up at a ball, and you’re going above and putting your centre of gravity above someone, then yes, you can topple over with somebody just standing under. It’s got to work both ways. I think the law was brought in to protect the receiving player, somebody jumping into someone, but it’s become such a good weapon, the attacking kick, that people can throw themselves up and make it a 50-50 ball.

“It does need a look at a change. If you go up like that for a catch or a tap-back you’re going to go over the top.

“It’s not easy being a ref with so many rules around: you’ve got split-second decisions. It’s a tough job and I wouldn’t want to do it, and you have the players nipping in your ear from both sides and the crowd as well.

“It’s a grey area and at the discretion of the ref.”

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