Scotland Autumn Nations Series squad: Why Finn Russell has been left out, Stuart Hogg returns, three uncapped players as new captain announced

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has picked his squad for the Autumn Nations Series.Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has picked his squad for the Autumn Nations Series.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has picked his squad for the Autumn Nations Series.
Gregor Townsend has challenged Finn Russell to show form and consistency if he is to win his place back in the Scotland squad.

The stand-off has been left out of Townsend’s 40-man selection for the autumn Test series which begins with the visit of Australia to Murrayfield on October 29 and continues with home games against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina over the first three weekends in November.

Jamie Ritchie will captain the squad which contains three uncapped players, Jack Dempsey, Murphy Walker and Stafford McDowall.

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Russell would have been unavailable for the opening match in any case as it falls outside the international window and he would be required to play for his club, Racing 92. However, his omission for the next three Tests is a major shock.

Russell, 30, has been Scotland’s first choice fly-half for the past eight years but Townsend has excluded him from his squad with under a year until the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France.

Townsend has chosen three stand-offs in preference to Russell – Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson – and said their selection was reward for their form and consistency.

“Those are the three players we are backing for this campaign,” said Townsend. “For someone like Finn Russell, who has missed out on the squad, someone who has played a lot of games for us in the past, it is a challenge for him to show his form and consistency over the next few weeks.”

The squad also sees the return of Stuart Hogg, but not as captain, with Edinburgh flanker Ritchie preferred as skipper. Richie Gray, the Glasgow Warriors lock, is also back in favour after an impressive start to the season.

Dempsey, the Glasgow No 8, wins his first call up after switching allegiance from Australia for whom he won 14 caps. He is able to play for Scotland thanks a change in eligibility rules and qualifies through a Scottish grandparent.

McDowall, his team-mate, comes in for the injured Sam Johnson at centre.

But it is Russell’s absence which will dominate.

Townsend and Russell’s relationship has been strained at times. The player is said to have taken issue with his coach’s tactics at half-time during the 2019 Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham as Scotland trailed 31-0. He then inspired a stunning second-half comeback as the Scots secured a 38-38 draw to retain the trophy.

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The pair clashed most dramatically the following year when Russell walked out of the Scotland camp ahead of the Six Nations and missed the entire championship. Townsend sought to build bridges during lockdown and Russell was reintegrated into the squad, with both parties claiming their relationship had been repaired. But Russell was then one of six Scotland players who went on an unauthorised night out in Edinburgh during last season’s Six Nations.

The 62-times capped player was dropped to the bench for Scotland’s final Six Nations match against Ireland in Dublin, with Kinghorn preferred as the starting stand-off.

Kinghorn retained the No 10 jersey for the summer tour of Argentina for which Russell was rested along with a number of other senior players. It now looks as if the Edinburgh man will continue in the playmaker’s role for the autumn series as Townsend looks to map out his squad in the build-up to the World Cup.

Kinghorn’s conversion from back-three player to stand-off is a project being driven by Townsend and his club coach Mike Blair and the 25-year-old has been highly impressive for Edinburgh since switching full-time to 10 at the start of last season. However, he remains a work in progress as a Test stand-off having played only five times in that role.

For Russell, the future is uncertain, both at club and international level. Speculation in France is rife that he will leave Racing 92 when his contract expires next summer and Stuart Lancaster takes over as director of rugby at the Paris team from Russell ally Laurent Travers who is moving upstairs.

Japan has long been mentioned as a potential destination for the player but he has also spoken this month of his desire to remain in France.

The player and his partner, the Scottish athlete Emma Canning, are expecting their first child next month.

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).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).