Finn Russell is on the bench against Ireland. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
surprise selection

'Finn will support Blair' - Scotland boss Townsend makes big call for Ireland game

Blair Kinghorn starts at 10 against Ireland, with Finn Russell dropping to the bench.

IRELAND THEMSELVES WERE surely planning to face Finn Russell at out-half this weekend, but Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has surprised everyone by instead picking Blair Kinghorn in their number 10 shirt.

Lions playmaker Russell drops to the bench for the Super Saturday clash in Dublin, with Townsend stressing his belief that Kinghorn deserves an opportunity against Ireland.

The 25-year-old has long been known primarily as a fullback but this season has seen him make the move to out-half with club side Edinburgh and also with Scotland, for whom he started at number 10 against Tonga last autumn.

Saturday’s clash against Ireland is an altogether different ball game, though, and Kinghorn will face a tough test of his qualities on just his second Test start as an out-half.

“We see this as a really good opportunity for Blair,” said Townsend this afternoon.

“He’s in really good form, he wasn’t available for our match last weekend. Prior to that, he’d played his best game of the season against Connacht [in the URC] and he’s come off the bench twice and shown what he can do in that jersey.

“He started for us this season against Tonga and played really well, he’s built on that performance. We believe this is the right time and the right game for him to play in.”

There has been widespread shock in Scottish rugby at Townsend’s big call, with the media there suggesting that he is taking a big risk in leaving Russell out of the starting XV for this crucial clash.

If Scotland lose and Wales beat Italy well in their game on Saturday, then Townsend’s men could finish the Six Nations in fifth place.

Townsend said Russell, who plays his club rugby with Racing 92 in France, will be supportive of Kinghorn this weekend.

gregor-townsend Scotland boss Gregor Townsend. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“The conversation went OK, fine,” said Townsend when asked how Russell had reacted.

“Any conversation you have with someone who is not starting, they’re initially disappointed, but they support the team and Finn will support Blair, support the rest, and he has done that this week.

“Every selection is an opportunity, there’s no exact science behind selection, it’s about giving players opportunity. What you feel is right, and that’s based on what you’ve seen from players in training and in games, the opposition that’s coming up.

“We know Blair has done really well, deserves this opportunity, and the way we’re looking to play the game suits Blair’s strengths.”

The other change to the Scotland team sees Jonny Gray return from injury in the second row.

“He’s in a really good place,” said Townsend. “He brings physicality, huge work-rate defensively, support of the ball-carrier in contact, and in contact himself. Those are areas we need to do well this weekend if we’re going to be in a position to win.”

The Scots are underdogs for Saturday’s clash and Townsend underlined how big a challenge his men are facing against Ireland.

“They’re very good. They were coming to the championship in great form. They play ambitious rugby and they’ve continued to do that.

“They’ve always been very strong around the contact area, set-piece, and now with this ambitious gameplan, they can test teams in the wider areas. It’s what we’ve seen prior to the championship and they’ve been better in every game, even the game against France. They could have won that.”

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