Gregor Townsend explains why Finn Russell is the ‘right man’ to lead Scotland

Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell in action Credit: Alamy

Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell in action Credit: Alamy

Finn Russell will captain Scotland in their Rugby World Cup warm-up match against France on Saturday, and head coach Gregor Townsend has explained his thinking behind the decision.

Russell skippers the side in the absence of flanker Jamie Ritchie, who is still nursing a minor calf strain.

The Scottish playmaker captaining the team is a real change of pace after he was omitted from the initial squad for the end-of-year series just 10 months ago.

A leader on attack

Townsend said that what has changed since then resulted in the 30-year-old taking on the responsibility of leading the side.

“Finn has played really well since he got back into the squad,” he said.

“He has always been a leader for us in terms of attack. He is older, has more experience, and an opportunity has opened up where he’s the right man to lead us this week.

“It’s the right time to give him that opportunity, and it will be interesting to see how he goes. Being vice-captain and our most important attack leader gives him a real confidence, and I’m hoping that being captain gives him confidence too.

“The players that do most of the talking on the field are your 10, your captain and maybe one other player. Finn has certainly done that for us over the last couple of years.”

The Scotland coach added that he believes Russell is in the prime of his career and that he is motivated to perform for his country.

“He’s in really good physical shape and was when he came back in last November and during the Six Nations, too,” said Townsend.

“He’s hitting that sweet spot where, after playing the game for ten years in that one position and playing against some of the best teams around, he has an understanding of where space might open up.

“If you’ve got that physical side right too, you can exploit those opportunities. That’s what he is doing. He’s really motivated about playing for Scotland and playing club rugby for the next few years.

“If you can get that mix for the next two or three years, and it’s important to note he is improving all the time, you’ve got one of the best players in the world in that position with us, which is great.”

Jamie Ritchie nearing a return

While Russell leads the side this week, Townsend is hopeful that regular skipper Ritchie will be back in time for the return clash against France in Saint-Etienne the following Saturday.

“I would hope he will be back next week,” he added. “He’s confident he will be back in full training next week.

“It was a calf strain that has required more time off. He got a scan on Tuesday just to make sure there was no more damage done, and it was felt that this week there was no need to push the injury.

“He’s confident he will be running by the weekend and back to full training next week.”

Townsend is testing his depth and giving players the opportunity to impress ahead of the World Cup, with his team for the first Test against France showing 13 changes to the side that defeated Italy last week.

The Scotland boss is hoping his troops can show over the next two games that they have built on a strong performance in their 32-21 Six Nations defeat by France in Paris in February when they roared back from 19-0 down and threatened to pull off a famous victory.

“We want to show we are a better team than that day,” said Townsend. “I feel that what the players are showing in training is at a lot higher level than what we produced in the Six Nations. That gives us a lot of encouragement and excitement.

“We did play well, and the character in the team was outstanding, but we didn’t finish off nearly enough opportunities to win the game. Three times we were over the try-line and didn’t score, and there were another four times where great creative play didn’t get rewarded.

“It’s great that France have committed to home and away fixtures like they did last time. It suits us that we were able to mix up our team last week, and we now have two very tough Test matches, home and away.”

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