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'Outstanding': The Lions verdict as fit-again Russell makes return

By Liam Heagney

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend might privately be disappointed about the reduced involvement of his countrymen in this Saturday’s deciding third Lions Test versus the Springboks, but he took solace on Friday about the inclusion of the fit-again Finn Russell for the first time in the matchday 23 to face the South Africans.

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Having been without a Test starter since Tom Smith was a starting front-rower in the 2001 series versus Australia, Scotland had been revelling in the increased representation on this 2021 tour. They had four starters in the 22-17 first Test win, with another player involved off the bench, while they had three starters and two subs in featuring in last weekend’s second Test loss.

Their pick, though, has now been reduced to just two starters, Duhan van der Merwe and Ali Price, for the all-important series decider, with one more Scotsman included on the bench. 

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This three-strong representation in the matchday 23 is eclipsed by England’s eight, Wales’ seven and Ireland’s five, but attack coach Townsend was glad that out-half Russell was in the selection mix having had his tour involvement threatened by the achilles injury that has sidelined him since the July 7 win over the Sharks. 

Lions boss Gatland admitted Russell might have to quit the tour if his injury didn’t respond to treatment and he even called up Marcus Smith on July 10 to provide cover given the Scottish player’s layoff. However, the situation has eventually turned out positively for Russell and he has now taken Owen Farrell’s place on the Test bench with the series outcome going down to the wire.

“It is a credit to him [Russell] and our medics that he is available and he has got himself on the bench because we know he can ask different questions than fly-half in the world and he has trained really well this week,” enthused Townsend. 

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“He was outstanding Tuesday and again yesterday [Thursday] so he is feeling much better around where he is with his achilles and just connecting with others in the team. If he does get on I will look forward to seeing him play, but we are obviously looking at that 15 to begin with doing all we can to win this game.”

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'Outstanding': The Lions verdict as fit-again Russell makes return

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