Townsend hails 'very professional' Russell after Scotland recall

Gregor Townsend paid tribute to Finn Russell's professionalism as he summoned the fly-half straight back into Scotland's starting line-up to play New Zealand at Murrayfield on Sunday.

The gifted Russell was controversially left out from the Dark Blues original squad for the Autumn Nations Series in what appeared to be the latest example of a strained relationship with Scotland coach Townsend.

Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson were chosen ahead of Russell, with Townsend citing "form and consistency" levels as the key criteria for his selection.

But Russell, in fine form for Paris-based club Racing 92, was called up after fellow No 10 Hastings was ruled out through injury following Scotland's 28-12 win over Fiji last weekend.

And he has now leapfrogged Kinghorn, with the Edinburgh back still on the bench in the matchday 23 named by Townsend on Friday.

"Finn's been excellent," said Townsend when asked how the stand-off had settled back into the Scotland set-up for the first time since March.

"He came into the squad on Tuesday, he's got other things going on in his life which are very important, his partner Emma is close to giving birth, but since he's come in he's been very professional. He's trained well, he's led the attack very well."

Russell walked out on the Scotland squad prior to the 2020 Six Nations after publicly criticising Townsend's methods.

The stand-off was also dropped for last season's Six Nations game against Ireland after it emerged he had breached team protocol by going out drinking in Edinburgh along with five other players.

Russell, in common with several senior players, was rested from the pre-season tour of South America only for former Scotland playmaker Townsend to spark a heated debate when he left him out of his squad for the end-of-year Tests.

- 'Great response' -

The 30-year-old Russell has starred for Racing in recent weeks, with former Scotland playmaker Townsend adding: "I'm happy with his form...It's a positive thing that Finn's played well since he wasn't selected.

"It's a great response. Whether that's a response to not being selected or he's just been focusing on what he was doing with his club, we've got a player in form and physically he's in great shape."

Russell's inclusion for this weekend's match means he joins forces with Ali Price as Scotland field the same half-back partnership they deployed in their last meeting against New Zealand -- an agonising 22-17 loss at Murrayfield in 2017.

Townsend, while understanding of Kinghorn's disappointment at failing get back into the starting XV, insisted Russell was the man for the job as Scotland bid for a first win over New Zealand in more than a hundred years of matches against the All Blacks.

"We just believe that for a game at this level, experience counts for a lot and Finn certainly brings that," said Townsend.

"The cohesion he has with Ali Price is important too so we feel those are really strong factors for us this week."

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