Finn Russell has Gregor Townsend’s blessing to miss Scotland v New Zealand match if partner goes into labour

Gregor Townsend says Finn Russell will have his full support if the recalled stand-off has to miss Scotland’s autumn international against New Zealand to attend the birth of his first child.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has brought Finn Russell back into his starting team. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has brought Finn Russell back into his starting team. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Russell has been named at 10 for the clash with the All Blacks at Murrayfield on Sunday despite not being included in Townsend’s original squad for the autumn series. An injury to Adam Hastings against Fiji last week opened the door for the Racing 92 fly-half who leapfrogs Blair Kinghorn in the pecking order at 10.

Kinghorn stays on the bench, with the Scotland coach citing Russell’s experience as a key factor in his decision to start him ahead of the Edinburgh man. The 63-times capped playmaker joined up with the squad on Tuesday but may have to leave camp if his partner, the heptathlete Emma Canning, goes into labour.

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“He has been excellent,” Townsend said on Friday. “He came into the squad on Tuesday, he has other things going on in his life that are very important. His partner Emma is heavily pregnant and close to giving birth. If it was today or tomorrow, he’s hoping to get back. I think if it was the day of the game ... he’s determined to be involved in this game.

Glasgow's Fraser Brown replaces the injured George Turner at hooker against New Zealand. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“Emma’s mum came out as Finn was leaving on Tuesday morning, so this whole network is there for her. If it happens and he has to go back, we’ll obviously support any decision he makes. Family comes before sport, and we’ve got three 10s in our squad. Ross [Thompson] has been training really well, so we can cover that if it happens.”

Russell’s exclusion from Townsend’s initial squad was a contentious call by the Scotland coach who challenged the player to work on his form and consistency. Russell responded by helping Racing win three games on the spin, scoring 57 points. The coach said Russell’s experience was important but ultimately he decided that starting him at 10 gives Scotland more chance of beating the All Blacks, something they have never done.

“For us to be able to call up someone who has played well for the team in the past and played against New Zealand a few times and most importantly has been in really good form over the last two weeks – it is great to have the depth in that position,” said Townsend. There are a few things that go into selection but we believe all those factors mean him starting gives us more chance of winning.”

Russell’s inclusion is one of three changes to Scotland’s starting XV following last week’s laboured win over Fiji. The stand-off will have Sione Tuipulotu outside him, with the Glasgow Warriors back preferred to Cameron Redpath at inside centre. The other change is in the front row where Fraser Brown makes his first start in almost two years, replacing the injured George Turner at hooker.

The All Blacks sprang a surprise by naming Scottish-born Finlay Christie in their team. The scrum-half emigrated to New Zealand when he was seven and will make his third Test start on Sunday. Christie, who plays in Super Rugby for the Blues, was born in the Borders and was courted by Scotland before committing to New Zealand.

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