Podcast: How will Scotland fare without Finn Russell in Six Nations opener?

As the Six Nations are set to get underway on Saturday, EN4 News’ Joe Anderson, Erin McRitchie and Ryan Nixon sat down to discuss Scotland’s chances in the tournament.

Exclusive: Russell dismissal from Scotland camp a ‘devastating blow’, former captain Lawson says

Russell will not line-up with the Scotland team against Ireland. (Credit: EN4 News)

Former Scotland captain Rory Lawson has told EN4 News that Finn Russell’s dismissal from Scotland’s Six Nations training camp is a “devastating blow” ahead of the tournament.

Russell’s dismissal, which emerged on Thursday afternoon, has only been referred to in a short statement by the SRU in which they stated Russell had been “disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp in Edinburgh.”

Lawson spoke about how the situation will have affected the 37 men who remain in the Scotland training camp.

“I think it’s a devastating blow,” Lawson told EN4 News. “Without knowing the ins and outs of, firstly what has happened, and secondly how it’s been dealt with, I think it’s a big challenge not only for Gregor Townsend and his coaching team but also the leadership team within the Scotland team.

“You think about Stuart Hogg – it’s his first week as Scotland captain with the rest of the squad and something like this gets thrown into the equation. It’s difficult. He doesn’t have the likes of Greig Laidlaw to lean on, who would have been one of the leaders in that decision making group previously. So, it’s stress that this Scotland squad could really do without.”

Lawson went on to discuss the issues that this situation could throw up in terms of match day team selection. The former player believes that whilst Russell is a big loss, this situation could test the depth of Townsend’s squad.

“I think, equally, the strength of any team, or any nation going in to the Six Nations, comes from the depth as well. Injuries and potential loss of players through anything to do with discipline, come within the tournament.

“It’s a blow that Scotland could ill-afford coming in to the competition. Yes Adam Hastings is in a good position, and yes there are other guys who could take that number 10 spot that are on the bench – but it’s undoubtedly a drop off in quality operators.”

Also speaking exclusively to EN4 News, fellow fly-half and former Scotland captain John Rutherford discussed his views on what has possibly gone on behind the scenes in the Scotland camp.

“It’s very difficult,” Rutherford said. “I’m now just like you, in that you’re picking up what journalists are saying or what’s going out on twitter. It sounds to me like he’s probably stepped over the line on drinking protocol. And that he’s not turned up for training.
“I think that has probably pushed Gregor [Townsend] into making the decision to discipline him for that first game.”

Rutherford acknowledged that, as of now, the details surrounding the situation and exactly what Russell’s actions have been, remain relatively unknown.

“We’re all guessing what happened. It will come out. I would have thought that over the weekend, some players will probably have spoken to friends and it will have gotten out. It’s really unfortunate – but hey, it happens all the time, in sport and business.”

What does Finn Russell’s ousting mean for Scotland’s fly-half options?

Following Thursday’s announcement that Finn Russell has been dismissed from Scotland’s preparations for their Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland, questions have been raised about Gregor Townsend’s back-up fly-half options.

Within the remaining 37 men selected in Townsend’s squad, there are three players capable of filling the position in Russell’s absence.

Glasgow Warriors’ Adam Hastings is seen as the first choice, as half-back is his favoured position anyway, while Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson can switch to the 10 slot, as can Edinburgh’s fullback Blair Kinghorn.

Russell was expected by most to be called upon to fill the Scotland 10 jersey throughout the tournament, as his recent form with Racing 92 in the French Top 14 has been outstanding.

However, the short statement released by the SRU on Thursday stated that Russell had been instructed to return to his club “having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp in Edinburgh”.

This means Russell will not travel with the team to their training camp in Portugal – due to take place at the beginning of next week – and will also miss their campaign opener against Ireland in Dublin.

It is not yet known if he will be allowed to participate in Scotland’s other four games – against England and France at home, and Italy and Wales away – but in the meantime, focus will most likely turn to Hastings, Hutchinson or Kinghorn.

Here, we take a look at what each player brings to the position:

Adam Hastings

Hastings is the most likely choice to claim Scotland’s 10 jersey following Russell’s dismissal. He fields the position week-in, week-out in the Pro14 and Champions Cup for the Glasgow Warriors and has created a tight partnership with fellow Warrior, scrum-half George Horne.

Hastings is a lover of the fast, flare-based game that Glasgow have adopted of late, but he is also more than capable at the basics, successfully kicking his 100th conversion in Glasgow’s Champions Cup meeting with Exeter at the beginning of the month. Considering this, and his partnership with Horne, Hastings will likely be fielded in the starting 15.

 

Rory Hutchinson

Hutchinson is regularly used as a centre – for both his club Northampton and in his few international caps to date – but he is also a more than capable fly-half. In 2019, Hutchinson was the top-ranking Premiership centre for clean breaks with 20, metres gained (654) and try assists (6), so he will likely look to bring a more expansive style to the game should he be dropped in at 10.

Hutchinson has not enjoyed much time at fly-half with his club due to Northampton’s ranks including Welsh 10 Dan Biggar. However, he was a standout player in the position at age-grade level for Scotland, and Townsend expressed the thinking when he named his squad that Hutchinson’s inclusion would give him both a centre and fly-half option in one.

 

Blair Kinghorn

Kinghorn is Townsend’s third valid option for filling the position while Russell is dismissed. The youngster usually finds himself in the fullback position, but he did play some of his age-grade rugby at half-back. Kinghorn charted the third-most metres made in last year’s Six Nations with 323 and has been a key figure in Edinburgh’s backline for the past couple of seasons.

His favoured jersey is 15, but following Richard Cockerill’s arrival at Edinburgh, Kinghorn has matured into a confident enough player that he could cover well at 10, as long as he has a confident nine inside of him.

 

Scotland coach Townsend names six uncapped players in Six Nations squad

Scotland international head coach Gregor Townsend named his wider training squad for the Guinness Six Nations on Wednesday and among the bulk of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh players, Townsend named six uncapped players to his side.

(Credit: Jamie Braidwood)

Head coach Gregor Townsend named a 38-man training squad on Wednesday as preparations begin for Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations campaign.

A large majority 29 players are provided by Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh – Scotland’s only two professional clubs who compete in the Pro14 competition – with an additional eight currently playing domestically in the English Premiership and a further one in the French Top 14.

The squad announcement also marked the naming of a new Scottish captain, following the retirement of Greig Laidlaw from international duty last month. Townsend elected to appoint Exeter Chief’s Stuart Hogg to the position.

“He really cares about playing for his country, what the jersey represents and also getting the best out of his teammates,” the head coach explained. “He’s a really intelligent rugby player who’s learning and improving with every season. He’s very good at bringing others into the game and building relationships with those around him.”

Hogg will have his leadership abilities first tested with a training camp in Portugal – a camp which Townsend stated only approximately 32 of those named in the wider squad will travel to – before travelling to face Ireland in Dublin for the tournament’s opening encounter.

There will be six players in the wider squad hungry to be involved in the Portugal camp, and ultimately, throughout the prestigious tournament as it progresses.

Of the six uncapped players, three have represented Scotland at Under-20s level, another has represented the country on the 7s circuit, whilst the latter two gain qualification through a grandparent and residential status respectively.

Second-row Alex Craig – who has 12 caps to his Scotland Under-20s CV – had his potential identified through his appearances for Gloucester this season, as Townsend said of his ability: “Every time he’s played, he’s looked more confident. He’s got a real explosive, dynamic quality in his ball-carrying, allied to his huge work-rate and that huge defence.”

Edinburgh’s back-row Luke Crosbie has been applauded by many for his work-rate and responsibility during the test players absence at the Rugby World Cup at the beginning of the season. Townsend sees promise in the athletic forward: “He’s tough, and his tackle percentage is over 90% – I think it’s 94% this season. We like the fact that, when he gets the ball, he’s so athletic that he can really go at the opposition.”

Thomas Gordon is a flanker that burst his way on to the scene at Scotstoun for the Glasgow Warriors last season and has not showed any signs of holding up since. This is a quality the Scotland coaching staff admire in the young player.

“We think we’ve got a potentially exceptional player,” Townsend said. “His man of the match game against Edinburgh at the end of last season, in one of his first starts for Glasgow, showed there was a special player there.”

Nick Haining is a forward who qualifies to represent the thistle through a grandmother from Dundee, and he has proved to be a strong back row contender at Edinburgh this season. Townsend has been taking note of the large Australian’s promise as well: “He has nice skills, good handling and he’s a big man. He has good footwork. He’s a skilful player, a powerful ball-carrier and a good defender. To us as coaches he has the attributes to do well at international level.”

Glasgow Warriors’ backline was boosted by the arrival of Kyle Steyn last year as the South African born player moved to the 15s game from the Scotland 7s circuit. Townsend, having named Steyn in his World Cup squad, knows what the back is capable of.

“He works hard on his game, so things like high-ball catching and contact work, you see the improvements month to month. He’s a really professional player.”

It is Ratu Tagive that closes out the uncapped contingent as he joins his fellow Warriors back Steyn in Townsend’s squad. Despite struggling for game-time at Glasgow the past couple of years, Tagive has taken this season as an opportunity to prove himself.

Townsend added: “Getting into the Glasgow team was a huge step forward when you think of the wingers they have there. He’s a hard-working player who should thrive in the environment with the players he’ll have around him.”

And so, despite notable injury omissions – Matt Fagerson suffered broken ribs, James Lang tore his hamstring, and Sam Skinner has only this week returned to full-time training – and players just missing out – Mark Bennett was one notable centre pipped to the post despite enjoying an on-form season with Edinburgh – Townsend acknowledged that there is still opportunities for fringe players to be brought in to the fold should they return, and be needed, throughout the process of the tournament.

The first test for Townsend’s team will be their opening fixture with Ireland on Saturday Feb. 1 in Dublin, with kick off at 4:45pm.

(Credit: EN4 News)

 

Scotland team:

Forwards: Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Edinburgh), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Alex Craig (Gloucester), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Allan Dell (London Irish), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Tom Gordon (Glasgow), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Cornell du Preez (Worcester), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).

Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Stuart Hogg (Exeter), George Horne (Glasgow), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Byron McGuigan (Sale), Ali Price (Glasgow), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow), Ratu Tagive (Glasgow).

The SFA should move to Murrayfield for the fans’ sake

It’s been a question which fans of the Scottish game have pondered for years.

 

Should the home of Scottish football be Hampden or Murrayfield? The answer might not be so far away.

 

Hampden is the National Stadium and has been the regular home for Scotland internationals and domestic cup semi-finals and finals. Murrayfield is the home of Scottish rugby and has very rarely hosted football matches over the years.However, having been a temporary home for Hearts in the last few months while Tynecastle Park is renovated, the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) have made a case to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) that Murrayfield becomes the new national football stadium once the SFA’s lease at Hampden expires in 2020.

 

South Stand, Hampden Park. Source: Google

 

For many, that is a decision which should have been made years ago. Since its completed redevelopment to an all-seated stadium 18 years ago, Hampden has been anything but ‘fan friendly’. If you’re unfortunate enough to get a ticket in the east or west stand during a game, then you’ll find yourself an unnecessary distance from the pitch. The stadium’s design means that any talk of a good atmosphere isn’t usually what you hear after a match. For supporters who travel by bus, it can be a good 25-minute walk to the stadium too.

 

At Murrayfield there’s an opportunity for fans visiting home internationals or domestic cup finals to experience something in a much more enjoyable environment. The move to Murrayfield for the SFA would mean more seats for bigger crowds and public transport on tap. Those crowds would be closer to the pitch too, which means better atmospheres.

 

It’s also worth noting that the rest of Britain’s national stadiums are all in the capital cities (London’s Wembley, Cardiff’s Principality Stadium and Belfast’s Windsor Park) so the shift from Glasgow to Edinburgh for the national team would follow a trend. One of Scotland’s best ever players, Kenny Dalglish, has this week backed the SFA to stay put. “How can Scottish football move from Hampden? It’s home,” he said.

 

Scotland’s national team first started playing there in 1906 so it’s clear why traditionalists aren’t keen on the change. But Scottish football needs a shake up from top to bottom and a vibrant new home for the SFA should be heavily considered.

%d bloggers like this: