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'There will be a few boys who are gutted... but we can't think about that'

By PA

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Scotland fly-half Finn Russell insists they cannot dwell on their selection constraints ahead of the rearranged Guinness Six Nations clash with France. Gregor Townsend has lost a number of English-based players from his squad for a game that was originally postponed after the home side suffered a Covid-19 outbreak.

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A deal with Premiership Rugby was announced at the weekend to allow players to feature for the game, which falls outside the international window. But it subsequently emerged that Townsend would only be permitted to select five players from English clubs.

British and Irish Lions cap Sean Maitland of Saracens is among those to drop out after starting in Saturday’s win over Italy. Uncapped Glasgow winger Rufus McLean has been called up in his place. Bath prop Jamie Bhatti, who came off the bench against Italy, was also excluded from the squad.

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Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests on RugbyPass All Access
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Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests on RugbyPass All Access

Scotland half-back Russell said: “It’s tough, this is a one-off occasion that this will happen. So I’m not sure if it’s fair or unfair, we just have to prepare as best we can with the players we have got. There will be a few boys who are gutted they are not able to be involved. Sean has been involved in most games in the Six Nations, Jamie Bhatti was back in again.

“But we can’t think about that, we just have to prepare as best we can. As a squad, if we sit back and look at ifs and buts and ‘it’s not fair’ and all this stuff, it will be detrimental to our performance. We need to be solely focused on the game and who we have got.”

Townsend had been adamant Scotland should not be weakened for any rearranged match, which now serves as a tournament decider as France bid to overhaul leaders Wales. But he has also seen Ewan Ashman, Cornell du Preez, James Lang and Duncan Taylor drop out of the reckoning.

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However, defence coach Steve Tandy echoed Russell’s call to put the issue to one side. “It makes it a little bit more difficult, but it is what it is and we managed to select a squad that we would be pretty confident with to go to France,” the Welshman said. “We can spend a lot of time talking about it, but ultimately that’s not going to help us for Friday. We have got to deal with the hand we are dealt and we are preparing as best we can.”

Russell was always confident he would be cleared to play for Scotland, assuming he continues to pass return to play protocols following a head knock, given some of his Racing 92 teammates will be involved for the hosts. The fly-half is relishing the high-stakes contest. France are chasing a 21-point bonus-point victory to overhaul Wales, while Scotland know a six-point win would see them jump into second place.

“If we manage to do what we are planning and get to second, it’s the highest finish we have had in the Six Nations,” he said. “France are trying to win the tournament so it’s a massive game for both teams. It should hopefully be a great game with both teams chasing bonus points and trying to win by certain margins. So it could be a good one to watch for neutral fans.

“I do enjoy that sort of game, but the majority of people who play and watch rugby will enjoy a game like that. Playing over in Paris, I imagine they will be favourites, but we go there with a great opportunity for us to finish second.

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“It will be an extremely tough but enjoyable game to play in if both teams are playing at their best. These are the games as a rugby player that you enjoy the most because there is so much on the line. We will have the Welsh fans behind us and all the fans back here in Scotland. It should be a great game.”

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'There will be a few boys who are gutted... but we can't think about that'

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