Gregor Townsend believes Scotland are set to welcome back an improved Finn Russell, with the fly-half’s year-long test exile about to end.
Russell is set to make his first Scotland appearance since last year’s World Cup after being named on the bench for Friday’s match against Georgia at Murrayfield.
The Racing 92 stand-off did not feature during this year’s Six Nations before it was halted by the coronavirus outbreak after he breached team discipline by going for a late night drink ahead of Scotland’s tournament opener with Ireland.
Russell later gave a newspaper interview in which he detailed the breakdown of his relationship with Townsend.
The pair appear to have resolved their differences and Russell will be among the replacements against Georgia, with Adam Hastings named as the starting fly-half by Townsend on Wednesday.
“We want him to bring his strengths, get back integrated into the group,” said Townsend after naming his side. “It’s been a year since he’s played for Scotland and a year since he’s worked with these players and coaches.
“Finn’s integrated well, he took part in the session on Monday and trained yesterday. In training you see his skill level and it’s probably moved on a couple of notches since last time he was in the group.”
Russell was a member of the Racing side narrowly beaten by Exeter in last weekend’s European Champions Cup final.
That match saw the positives and negatives of Russell’s attacking game as he helped set up two tries for Simon Zebo but also threw an intercepted pass that led to a try for Exeter’s Henry Slade.
“I’ve chatted about his game at the weekend,” said former Scotland playmaker Townsend. “Any game you play there is going to be errors, and especially when you’re a 10 — and I should know that.
“We don’t want to take away from any of our players the ability to seize opportunities and make those decisions that they believe are right.
“But it’s great to see players having the courage to go for what they believe is right and with someone like Finn with his experience and skill set, those decisions will be the right ones far more often than they’re not.”
With Exeter playing Wasps in this Saturday’s English Premiership final, there is no place for the victorious European trio of Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner in the Scotland side.
The Exeter men are set to join the Scotland squad ahead of next week’s delayed Six Nations finale against Wales in Llanelli.
Recently qualified Edinburgh wing Duhan Van Der Merwe makes his Test debut, while Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown will captain the side for the first time after being named skipper in Hogg’s absence.
Scotland were third, with two wins from four games, when the Six Nations was halted by Covid-19.
“We use the word improvement a lot so we’re not going to be changing things. We feel the game we’re putting together was a solid foundation,” said Townsend.
Scotland team to play Georgia (15-1):
Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, James Lang, Duhan van der Merwe; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie; Scott Cummings, Ben Toolis; Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown, Rory Sutherland
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Rob Harley, Nick Haining, Cornell du Preez, George Horne, Finn Russell