Finn Russell: Summer off can re-energise stand-off but succession planning is already underway

Finn Russell will turn 31 during next year’s Rugby World Cup and the tournament in France is likely to be his last hurrah on the global stage.

A knee injury is expected to keep Finn Russell out of Racing 92's French Top 14 quarter-final against Bordeaux. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
A knee injury is expected to keep Finn Russell out of Racing 92's French Top 14 quarter-final against Bordeaux. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

For so long Scotland’s talisman, the national side will have to face up to a future without one of its greatest ever stand-offs in the not too distant future.

Succession planning is required and is the reason why Blair Kinghorn has been converted into a fly-half this season and why Gregor Townsend has been having conversations with Fin Smith, the young Worcester Warriors No 10 who qualifies for both Scotland and England.

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Kinghorn, who is four years younger than Russell, has adapted quickly, impressing in a vibrant Edinburgh side whose commitment to expansive rugby has allowed the former full-back/wing to utilise his pace and skill to good effect.

He has already started two games for Scotland at 10, firstly in the comfortable home win over Tonga in the autumn and then in the trickier surroundings of Dublin when he was given the nod over Russell in the Six Nations finale against Ireland.

The match at the Aviva was a tough gig for Kinghorn but Townsend felt he acquitted himself well and the Scotland coach will have the opportunity to work more closely with the stand-off in Argentina this summer in what could be an early taster of what the post-Russell era looks like.

Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson are also part of the South American touring party but it is clear that Kinghorn is ahead of them in the pecking order. Neither Hastings nor Thompson was part of Townsend’s original Six Nations squad this season.

But what of Russell? Townsend has decided the Racing 92 fly-half will benefit from having the summer off and both he and Stuart Hogg were excluded from the squad named on Wednesday.

Blair Kinghorn, left, started ahead of Finn Russell at 10 against Ireland but Russell came on late in the game. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

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Russell was last spotted at the Monaco Grand Prix with his knee in a brace and is unlikely to be fit for Racing’s Top 14 quarter-final against Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday night.

Having toured with the Lions last summer, Russell has barely had a break over the last two seasons and spoke last month about being “slightly drained”.

“It’s that mental side rather than physically,” he told the Times. “I’ve had maybe five days holiday this year. It’s not much at all.”

Gloucester's Adam Hastings is in the Scotland squad to tour South America. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Townsend sympathises and is hoping a summer spent away from the game can help “re-energise” the player.

“The challenge with playing lots of rugby, and the demands of playing – whether it is for your club or international – are not just physical, they are mental, and we’re all aware of that,” said Townsend. Sometimes a break from the game can re-energise you, and an enjoyable experience can re-energise you.”

Townsend and Russell have not always seen eye to eye and the stand-off missed the entire Six Nations in 2020 after his relationship with the coach broke down. Russell’s involvement on an unauthorised night out in Edinburgh during this season’s championship set alarm bells ringing again but Townsend said all parties had learned from the incident.

The hope is that the relationship remains intact and that Russell can return revitalised next season and perform again at a World Cup where a player of his unquestionable talent belongs.

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