Townsend excited about return of talisman Russell


FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Scotland v France - BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Britain - March 8, 2020 Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend before the match Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is pleased with the form of Finn Russell and expects influential performances from the talismanic flyhalf when he returns to the team for the conclusion of the Six Nations and the new Autumn Nations Cup.

The 28-year-old, expected to feature for Racing 92 against Exeter Chiefs in Saturday’s European Champions Cup, was back in the squad after missing the Six Nations matches in February and March before competition was halted by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Russell was dropped on the eve of Scotland’s Six Nations opener in Ireland and sat out three subsequent matches after what Scottish Rugby called “a breach of team protocol”, with British media reporting he missed training after a night out.

The French-based outside half, with a reputation for flair and match-winning ability, then said he had no relationship with Townsend, despite eight years working with him.

But the impasse is a thing of the past as the pair used the novel coronavirus lockdown to work on their relationship.

“Our conversations have continued through the last months to as recently as just a few days ago,” Townsend told a news conference on Monday.

“It’s been really pleasing to see his form. It was a really brave performance he put on in the (Champions Cup) semi-final. I thought he fronted up very well and then was decisive at the end.”

Russell dipped into his box of tricks to set up a dramatic decisive late try for Racing against Saracens as they won 19-15 to book their place in the final.

Townsend named only three uncapped players in a 40-man squad on Monday for six tests in an eight week period.

Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele moves up to the senior squad after representing Scotland at under-20 level, while South African-born prop Oli Kebble and winger Duhan van der Merwe have qualified through residency.

London Irish flanker Blair Cowan, who won his last Scotland cap in 2016, and Harlequins centre James Lang, who last featured in mid- 2018, were both recalled.

Scotland begin their test programme at Murrayfield against Georgia on Oct. 23 before facing Wales in Llanelli on Oct. 31 in the rescheduled 2020 Six Nations fixture.

The Autumn Nations Cup begins in November with Scotland in Group B up against France, Fiji and Italy.

Squad:

Forwards: Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti (both Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Cornell du Preez (Worcester Warriors), Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson (both Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Richie Gray, Rob Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Jamie Ritchie (all Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh)

Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh), Sam Johnson, Huw Jones (both Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), James Lang (Harlequins), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Scott Steele (Harlequins), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh), Duncan Weir (Worcester Warriors)

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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