Russell was last week left out of Townsend’s squad for the Autumn Nations Series and challenged to show “form and consistency”. The 62-times capped fly-half responded by helping create three tries and kicking 18 points in Racing 92’s win over French champions Montpellier at the weekend.
He would not have been available to face the Wallabies as Townsend has had to select a team composed of home-based players because the game falls outside the designated international window. Kinghorn will start at stand-off against Australia and then looks set to vie with Gloucester’s Hastings for the No 10 jersey for the remainder of the autumn series, but Townsend offered a glimmer of hope to Russell. “The door is not closed on any player,” said the Scotland coach. “Opportunities come through injury. That’s unfortunate, but it is an opportunity for someone outside the squad. The door is open to all our players.”
Townsend and Russell have a chequered history but the coach denied once again that this influenced his decision to exclude him. He also brushed off remarks from Philippe Doussy, Racing 92’s skills and kicking coach, who said the French club were “shocked and surprised” by Russell’s axing given his “incredible” form in the Top 14. “If that is their view, he is obviously their player,” said Townsend. “I would imagine the Gloucester coach would have been stunned if Adam Hastings hadn't been in the squad and the Edinburgh coach would have been stunned if Blair Kinghorn hadn't been in the squad given their form this season.”
Asked if there was anything personal in the Russell situation, Townsend said: “No, not at all.”
This will be the fifth Test in a row that Kinghorn has started at stand-off for Scotland but there has been just one win from the previous four. Hastings, who will play for his club, Gloucester, against Exeter Chiefs on Friday night, will come into contention for the remaining autumn matches, against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina.
“Blair can put down a good marker and make it hard for Adam to start next week [against Fiji] by the way he plays,” added Townsend. “I would imagine there will be changes to our team next week. We have a number of players who have been starters for us before who play in England that would be available but this team does have a huge opportunity to play well and make that selection even tougher. If this team were to go out and play well against Australia then we would want them to get more game-time throughout this championship.
“Blair was a starter in the summer, he was the starter against Ireland, so he’s started the last four games,, so the way he’s playing he’s in the driving seat. But Adam’s form has been very good. He’s got another big game on Friday night against Exeter. I think his game management, his physical attributes and his confidence – which is important – are real positive signs.”