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'Okay, fine': Townsend throws light on his axing of Finn Russell

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend has cagily defended his decision to start Blair Kinghorn as the Scotland out-half for only the second time in his career and bench the established Finn Russell for this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations game away to Ireland. 


The Scottish coach named a starting XV containing two changes from last weekend’s win away to Italy and while the inclusion of the fit-again Jonny Gray for the benched Sam Skinner was no surprise, leaving out 2021 Lions tourist Russell was an earthquake of a call. 

Kinghorn has only worn the No10 once before in a Test match, starting the October win over Tonga in that position, but his other 19 starts have come either on the wing or at full-back – stretching back to 2018 when he first debuted at international level.  

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Jamie Noon previews the final round of the Six Nations | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 25
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Having publicly fallen out with Townsend at the start of the 2020 Six Nations, Russell mended that relationship with the Scotland coach and had re-established himself as the first-choice out-half, starting the last seven matches this season and wearing the No10 shirt in four of last season’s five Six Nations games. 

However, Townsend has now gambled in including Kinghorn as the starting out-half – rather than last weekend’s sub Adam Hastings – in place of the axed Russell as Scotland seek to salvage their disappointing Six Nations campaign by getting a result against the trophy-chasing Ireland. 


The alteration, though, was a touchy subject at the coach’s Thursday lunchtime live media session, Townsend trying to put the emphasis on how well Kinghorn has played at club level rather than dwell on the indifferent Test form of Russell. Initially asked to explain the change, the Scotland boss said: “We see it as a good opportunity for Blair. He has been in really good form. He wasn’t available for our match last week. 


“The week before that he played his best game of the season against Connacht (for Edinburgh) and he has come on twice off the (Scotland) bench and shown what he can do in that jersey. He started for us before this season against Tonga and did really well. He has built on that performance so we believe this is the right time, the right game for him to play in.” 

How did Russell react to the news, how did that conversation go? “Okay, fine. Like any conversation you have with someone who is not starting they are initially disappointed but they support the team. Finn will support Blair and he will support the rest and he has done this week.”

What has Russell not done this year that has seen him drop out of the starting team? “I’d prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he has played and deserves this opportunity which he certainly has on his performances throughout the season.”

Would you accept there is a risk in taking someone of Russell’s calibre out of the starting XV and going to a place like Dublin? “Every selection is an opportunity and there is no exact science selection. It’s about giving players an opportunity and what you feel is right.


“That is based on what you have seen from players in training and games, the opposition that is coming up and we know Blair has done really well and has earned his opportunity. And also with how we are looking to play the game with Blair’s strengths.”

What are Kinghorn’s strengths, then? “He is a very good passer of the ball, he is an excellent runner, he has a long kicking game and he moves well between phases, so I’ll leave it just like that. I suppose that is how I would best describe it, that he senses where the space might appear in the defence very well.” 


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