What does Finn Russell's expulsion mean for Scotland's 2020 Six Nations campaign?

The news that star stand-off Finn Russell has left the Scotland camp for a “breach of team protocol” and will play no part in next Saturday’s opening match against Ireland comes as a crushing blow.

Finn Russell rallies the troops ahead of last summer's World Cup warm-up win over France at BT Murrayfield. Picture: SRU/SNS
Finn Russell rallies the troops ahead of last summer's World Cup warm-up win over France at BT Murrayfield. Picture: SRU/SNS
Finn Russell rallies the troops ahead of last summer's World Cup warm-up win over France at BT Murrayfield. Picture: SRU/SNS

“Every Six Nations is important” is head coach Gregor Townsend’s philosophy but to paraphrase George Orwell “some are more important than others”.

After a fifth-place finish last year and an early World Cup exit, Townsend’s job is on the line, and the breaking news today is a massive development.

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A Scotland team spokesperson said: “Stand-off Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp in Edinburgh. He has returned to his club.”

It is a brief and basic response which fans on social media, many of whom have invested large sums of money to follow Scotland in the upcoming tournament, are demanding is expanded upon. And soon.

Scotland will now head into the lion’s den of Dublin without a potential Lion - their key playmaker and, along with new captain Stuart Hogg, arguably one of only two world-class players Scotland possess. He also a man who just happens to be in the form of his life with one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Russell now returns to Racing 92 with a massive question mark hanging over his international future, for as long as Townsend is in charge.

There was a well-documented hint of a rift with his former Glasgow coach after last year’s epic 38-38 draw with England at Twickenham, when Scotland staged a stunning second-half comeback.

The man-of-the-match said on TV afterwards: “I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time]. I said to him ‘you’re telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they’re just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back’.

“Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby.”

There has also been tension following the unfair dismissal of Russell’s father, Keith, from his post as director of domestic rugby with the SRU, which was upheld by a court with a scathing judgment of Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson’s conduct in the affair.

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The cold, hard fact is that Russell will not be in the Scotland No 10 jersey at the Aviva Stadium when the Six Nations starts on 1 February.

Adam Hastings, the son of legendary former Scotland and Lions captain Gavin, is next cab off the rank and he has been in fine form for his club Glasgow Warriors recently, sparkling in the recent 31-31 draw with Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Running the Scottish attack at one of world rugby’s most formidable away venues would be a huge test for the promising and talented 23-year-old.

Townsend could turn to experienced pros, Pete Horne or Duncan Weir, who he has worked with at club level. Neither player was included in Scotland's 38-man Six Nations training squad.

Former Scotland Under-20 stand-off Rory Hutchinson, who now plays mainly at centre, has impressed at Northampton Saints and many considered him unlucky not to make the plane to Japan last year. He is in the current squad.

New skipper Hogg has played 10, notably on the 2013 Lions tour, but that would be a sensational throw of the dice.

Russell was due to report back for his club Racing 92 this weekend anyway but his absence is now confirmed as something more serious. Townsend and his players head off to Spain for a training camp before flying straight to Dublin next Thursday.

It may only be around 13C at their destination but the heat was already on and has suddenly now rose to boiling point.