Gregor Townsend has admitted he can’t put a timescale on Finn Russell’s comeback after handing Peter Horne the No 10 jersey for Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations clash with France in Paris.
Russell was ruled out of the match on Tuesday after suffering a head injury while playing for Racing 92 at the weekend and Townsend conceded that it may not be the only game he will be without his playmaker as the tournament reaches its halfway point.
“Potentially, yes. Rightly we talk about head injuries but this is a facial injury,” said the coach. “Finn got a whack on the side of his cheek and jaw, and we’re obviously seeing how that settles.
“It was still fairly swollen yesterday [Wednesday] and that will be something we keep monitoring as well as the return to play through the HIA [head injury assessment].”
Townsend could give no guarantees that Russell will be back in the mix for the visit of Wales in a couple of weeks.
“We’ll see. Obviously he’s not available for this game,” he said. “As with all these injuries, you can’t predict how quickly people are going to come back, particularly when it’s head injuries. We’ve two or three players who have not played since before the November Tests [with concussion] so you can’t give definite dates when players are going to return.”
Townsend accepted that losing Russell was part of the risk involved with his move outwith the Scottish system but expressed disappointment with the French authorities for having fixtures on a Sunday before a Six Nations Saturday.
“It is disappointing he played the Sunday before a Test match,” said Townsend. “That was always one of the risks of him playing in France, but I’m just disappointed that the French federation or the Top 14 has games on Sundays, which makes it very difficult to recover from any injury in a short time, and if you have a head injury it is almost impossible to play the following week.
“We’re able to rest Scottish players between rounds in the Six Nations. England rest all their players, Ireland rest all their players, Wales is a similar situation and Italy likewise.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with [Racing 92] since Finn moved to France. He was rested before the Six Nations, he was rested before the November Tests, he has been rested for a couple of other games throughout the Six Nations.
“They are aware that it is in their best interest and in Finn’s best interest to not play too many games, but they were in a position where they felt they had to select Finn because one of their other 10s retired with a head injury as well.”
Horne is one of four changes to the side who lost to Ireland, with flanker Magnus Bradbury coming straight in at blindside for the injured Ryan Wilson after a man-of-the-match return for Edinburgh in last Friday’s Pro14 win over Dragons. Nick Grigg replaces Huw Jones at outside centre, teaming up with his Glasgow team-mate Sam Johnson in the midfield and Blair Kinghorn replaces Stuart Hogg at full-back.
Glasgow tighthead Zander Fagerson makes a welcome return to the bench, where he is joined by Newcastle flanker Gary Graham and Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham.
After suffering multiple injury shocks, Townsend welcomed the returns of Bradbury and Fagerson.
“Absolutely, it’s timely with Ryan Wilson missing this game and Magus coming back and playing so well at the weekend. That was above our expectations that he lasted so long but also had big impacts in the first half and the second half.
“He won man of the match and I thought rightly so. He is straight into the team and we are expecting a similar performance from him at the weekend.
“Zander has played really well for Scotland in the past. He was in outstanding form before he picked up his injury over in South Africa against the Cheetahs and again showed his match fitness was pretty good. We expect him to make a big impact from the bench.”
Townsend admitted that centre had been the most discussed selection option but is confident it is an occasion that tough-tackling Grigg will relish.
“We knew that last week [club games] was an indicator for where we might go with selection, the players knew that as well,” explained Townsend.
“Chris Harris and Nick Grigg were the leading candidates there, though James Johnstone got into the squad for the first time, he played really well.
“There was an outside option of playing Sam Johnson in that position, he has played outside Peter Horne a couple of times, but we thought that was too much of a change for someone who has only played two Test matches.
“Nick played really well, he had 18 tackles [against Cardiff] and showed what he is about defensively and is a very good attacker.”