Scotland Six Nations: Pete Horne can fill Finn Russell’s boots if required

Peter Horne made a fine impression at stand-off for Scotland against France  three years ago
Peter Horne made a fine impression at stand-off for Scotland against France three years ago
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If Finn Russell does fail to take the field at the Stade de France on Saturday afternoon then at least the man favourite to take on the No 10 jersey can look back on a similar situation which ended up going rather well.

In March 2016 when Scotland faced France at BT Murrayfield, Russell was forced off early with a head injury after colliding with John Barclay’s leg and Peter Horne had to step into the stand-off berth. What followed was one of his finest hours in a Scotland jersey as the 29-year-old pulled the strings in a breakthrough 29-18 win over the French.

It was a first win over Les Bleus in a decade and the first time Scotland had registered a Six Nations win over anyone but Italy since the victory over Ireland three years previously. It also started a long unbeaten home record in the championship which was only ended a week past Saturday by the Irish.

“I would look forward to it. It would be a good, exciting challenge,” said Horne of potentially filling his former Glasgow team-mate’s boots in the chief playmaker slot again. “I played pretty much 75 per cent of the time against France a few years ago and I played all right. If I get handed the keys I will give it my best go.”

Clearly the news about Russell being an injury doubt following the concussion he sustained playing for his club Racing 92 at the weekend is a worry to Scotland supporters but Horne insisted that such things were absorbed and dealt with by the squad.

“If it was all doom and gloom, what does that say to everyone around you?” said Horne.

“The next man up comes in, he’s expected to do a job.

“How many times have we seen it, where somebody is injured and you think ‘oh Christ’ but two minutes later the new guy has won the game?

“That’s how the next crop come through. We saw that again [against Ireland when Stuart Hogg went off], Blair [Kinghorn] was awesome again.

“In the Australia game [in the 2017 November series], we were all gutted when Hoggy went down in the warm-up. Then Sean Maitland came in and played brilliant at 15 [in a 53-24 win]

“It is what it is. We’re gutted to be without a couple of world-class players. But the rest of us are determined to get it right and we’ll have the bit between our teeth.”

Horne, who had a run at stand-off for Glasgow at the weekend, is still hopeful that Russell will be okay to play on Saturday which, given the problems at centre, wouldn’t rule himself out of the starting XV.

“Hopefully, it’s looking good for Finn for the weekend. Like we said he is symptom-free today and he is in good spirits,” said Horne.

“In one way it’s not ideal for his preparation. You’d almost rather hope that at the start of the week it was looking doubtful rather than last thing on a Friday and myself or Adam [Hastings], whoever fills his shoes, hasn’t done as much training.

“We can look on it as a positive. Adam can get bit more reps in this week to make sure we are ready to go and if Finn has to pull out at the end of the week then we are in a good spot to go.

“We will see how Gregor goes. If I get put in in the centre then great. If not and I am on the bench I will come on and do my job the best I can.”

Of the previous injuries which have struck a number of key men for Scotland, the one to tighthead WP Nel was considered the least serious but it looks like Paris will be too soon.

Forwards coach Danny Wilson said: “He’s not training today. I’ve not had an update, I think there’s still a little bit to be done.

“I don’t think he’s ruled out right now but there’s a fair bit to do before he would be available so there’s a big question mark there.”

Horne, meanwhile, is not taking too much from France’s shambolic showing at Twickenham, with memories fresh of a bruising last visit to Paris two years ago when Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and John Hardie were all early casualties.

“I remember that. And I think Josh Strauss played the whole game with a punctured kidney or something,” recalled Horne.

“Look, it will be tough going over there. We’ve had a bit of success against them at home recently but they’re definitely a different beast over there.

“That first half against Wales, they showed what they were capable of. That was one of the best halves any team has played in the tournament.

“It was a wee bit sort of Jekyll and Hyde that game. They totally changed and were pretty poor in the second half. But it’s never nice playing a team after they’ve just been hosed. They’ll be looking for a reaction, everyone in the squad, every coach. There will be a bit of pressure on them from the fans and I’m sure they’ll come out all guns blazing.

“But we’re a lot fitter than them and, if we can keep the speed up and keep the tempo of the game up, we can hopefully try to run them off their feet. That will be our aim. They’ve got some absolute monsters in that forward pack. They’ve got some big backs as well. So it will suit them if it’s a bit stodgy. But we’ll have to look after the ball. We can’t cough it up and give them opportunities.”