Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend insists he would prefer to focus on why he selected Blair Kinghorn to start at stand-off rather than the demotion of talisman Finn Russell to the bench for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash in Ireland.
The Racing 92 number 10 has not been at his brilliant best in this year’s tournament.
However, eyebrows have been raised by the decision to replace him for a formidable trip to Dublin with 25-year-old Edinburgh player Kinghorn, who has only started to specialise at stand-off this term and is relatively untried in the key position at international level.
Asked what Russell has done to merit being one of only two players to drop out from the side that started last weekend’s bonus-point win away to Italy, Townsend said: “I’d prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and how he’s deserved his opportunity, which he certainly has with his performances throughout the season.
“We see this as an opportunity for Blair. He’s been in really good form. He wasn’t available for our match (in Rome) last week (due to personal reasons) but the week before that he played his best game of the season against Connacht.
“He’s come on twice off the bench and shown what he can do in that (Scotland number 10) jersey. He started (at stand-off) against Tonga and played really well and he’s built on that performance so we believe this is the right time, the right game for him to play in.”
Asked how Russell reacted to the news that he will not be starting in Dublin, Townsend said: “OK, yeah, fine. Like any conversation when you give someone news that they’re not starting, they’re initially disappointed but they support the team. Finn will support Blair, as he has done this week.”
Townsend seemed reluctant for the focus to be on Russell’s omission and dismissed the suggestion that his decision should be viewed as a risk.
“Every selection is an opportunity,” said Townsend, who has restored Jonny Gray in place of his Exeter colleague Sam Skinner in the second row.
“There is no exact science. Like any game, you put a lot of thought into it and put out the team you believe is going to give you the best chance of winning. It’s about what you feel is right based on training and games.
“We know Blair has done really well and earned this opportunity, and also with how we’re looking to play the game, with Blair’s strengths.
“He’s a very good passer, an excellent runner, he has a long-kicking game and he moves well between phases. He senses where the space might appear in the defence very well.”