As expected, the 23-year-old Glasgow Warriors stand-off will fill the shoes of Racing 92 star Russell, who plays no part this week following an alcohol-related breach of team protocol at the start of last week.
Edinburgh’s Australia-born No 8 Nick Haining will make his Scotland debut as Townsend makes ten changes from the side which fell to a World Cup-ending defeat by hosts Japan in October.
“I think they’ve been really together as a group for the past two weeks,” said Townsend. “This coming with enthusiasm, energy, open minds. We have a couple of new coaches with new ideas in our group and they have played really well.”
Defence coach Steve Tandy and scrum specialist Pieter de Villiers have joined the back-room staff, while Stuart Hogg takes on the captaincy as Scotlnd look for reboot following a 2019 that saw a fifth-place finish in the Six Nations and pool-stage exit from the World Cup.
Ireland have only lost one Six Nations match at Aviva Stadium in the past five years but Townsend insisted he has every faith in the in-form Hastings to rise to the occasion
Haining will win his first cap, while club-mate Rory Sutherland will make his first international appearance at prop in three-and-a-half years.
Townsend added: “Nick gets his opportunity on the back of his form for Edinburgh. Whenever he’s had his opportunity for Edinburgh he’s done well, we are looking forward to seeing him play.”
Elsewhere, centre Huw Jones comes back into the starting XV alongside Glasgow team-mate Sam Johnson in the midfield and Ali Price partners Hastings at scrum-half.
World Cup skipper Stuart McInally continues on the bench, with Fraser Brown at hooker as he was in that 28-21 loss to Japan in Yokohama.
There is a surprise exclusion for lock Grant Gilchrist, with Glasgow pair Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings starting in the engine room and Ben Toolis covering on the bench.
Former Scotland Under-20 stand-off Rory Hutchinson, who now plays mainly centre for Northampton, backs up Hastings among a replacements list which also includes a recall for Worcrster back-rower Cornell du Preez.
Townsend announced his team before boarding a flight at Alicante airport bound for Dublin after a straining camp.
“The Spain trip has been a successful one in terms of getting the group together, talking more about our game and a little bit about what Ireland will bring,” said the coach, who declined to comment on whether there has been any contact with Russell, insisting that he was only concerned with the players heading to Ireland and fully focused on the challenge that awaits.
Scotland were thumped 27-3 by the Irish, who have a new head coach Andy Farrell, in their World Cup opener.
Townsend added: “It’s important we are in the game and we stay in the fight for as long as possible. We are looking to impose our game on Ireland but we know that won’t be easy.
“When you play a team like Ireland, who have so much quality and they are on their own patch, it’s pretty clear they will bring their own energy and their own game.
“The first 20-30 minutes will be tough and we need to be up for that, we need to enjoy the defensive side of the game.”