Finn Russell Scotland omission '100 per cent a rugby decision' - but Gregor Townsend has taken a major gamble

With the Rugby World Cup less than a year away Gregor Townsend has taken one of the biggest gambles of his coaching career by axing his star stand-off and changing his captain.

Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend haven't always seen eye to eye. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend haven't always seen eye to eye. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend haven't always seen eye to eye. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Finn Russell, so long Scotland’s talisman in the No 10 jersey, has been excluded from Townsend’s 40-man squad for the autumn Test series, with the head coach preferring Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson as his three fly-halves. Stuart Hogg, who, like Russell, was rested for the summer tour of Argentina, is back but is replaced as skipper after three seasons at the helm. Jamie Ritchie, the Edinburgh flanker, takes over.

Such has been Russell and Hogg’s impact on the Scottish game for most of the past decade this felt like a seismic moment. Townsend acknowledged that Russell was one of the best players to come out of Scotland but challenged the Racing 92 stand-off to find more consistency. The pair have had a strained relationship at times but the coach said the decision to drop him was “100 per cent” to do with rugby.

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“I hope Finn responds positively,” said the Scotland coach. “That’s obviously up to him. We want him to reach his potential. On his day Finn can be up there with the best 10s in the game. I don’t look too far beyond this campaign. We have a lot of faith and belief in the 10s we have picked.”

Scotland open the four-Test series against Australia at Murrayfield on Saturday week when they take on the Wallabies with a team composed of home-based players as the fixture falls outside the designated international window. The Exiles will return for the next three games, against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina.

Russell’s loss is Hastings’ gain. The Gloucester 10 was left out of Townsend’s initial Six Nations squad then missed the Argentina tour through injury but the national coach enthused about his recent club form. “The way Gloucester play, he’s getting his hands on the ball a lot more,” said Townsend. “He’s been excellent, his form and his consistency has got him back in the squad. That has a flip side for someone who misses out on selection.”

Russell, who turned 30 last month, now faces a long road back if he is to play in the third World Cup of his career. “This is a rugby decision,” stressed Townsend who has championed Kinghorn’s conversion from back-three player to stand-off over the past 18 months. “We’re currently sitting sixth in the world. We’re not satisfied with what we did in the last 12 months.

“Consistency is our big driver. Putting out a performance that might not be ten out of ten every week, but it’s always about eight or nine. If it drops, it drops to seven and not four or five. That’s the driver of what we as coaches stress to the players, but also what the players are delivering. This selection is based on form and consistency. What Adam is doing but obviously the other two 10s as well.”

Adam Hastings has been in fine form for Gloucester. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Adam Hastings has been in fine form for Gloucester. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Adam Hastings has been in fine form for Gloucester. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Townsend challenged Russell to show him he had made the wrong decision but said he could only do so by being consistent for Racing. “Finn is one of the best players that have come out of Scotland, but there are other very good players as well whether they have come out of Scotland or from different backgrounds. Not all of them are going to play their best rugby all the time, and at times you’ve got to reward other players for being in form.”

There are three uncapped players in the squad, including Jack Dempsey who has switched allegiance from Australia. The other two are his Glasgow team-mates Stafford McDowall and Murphy Walker.

Full Scotland squad

Forwards: Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), Dave Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby), Andy Christie (Saracens), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Nick Haining (Edinburgh Rugby), WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby), Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby), Sam Skinner (Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Sutherland (Ulster Rugby), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Murphy Walker (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby).

Blair Kinghorn during a Scotland training session at Oriam. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Blair Kinghorn during a Scotland training session at Oriam. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Blair Kinghorn during a Scotland training session at Oriam. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Backs: Mark Bennett (Edinburgh Rugby), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby), Adam Hastings (Gloucester Rugby), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh Rugby), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby), Stafford McDowall (Glasgow Warriors), Rufus McLean (Glasgow Warriors), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Cameron Redpath (Bath Rugby), Ollie Smith (Glasgow Warriors), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Thompson (Glasgow Warriors), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby), Ben White (London Irish).

Ross Thompson in action for Scotland during the summer tour of Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Ross Thompson in action for Scotland during the summer tour of Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Ross Thompson in action for Scotland during the summer tour of Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

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