AB Zondagh backs ‘exciting’ possibility of Russell and Kinghorn playing together

Scotland assistant coach says Racing 92 stand-off has already brought positivity and energy to the squad

AB Zondagh
AB Zondagh with Finn Russell and other members of the Scotland squad at training today. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND attack coach AB Zondagh has declared that the prospect of Finn Russell and Blair Kinghorn playing in tandem for the national team is an “exciting” possibility – lending credence to the belief that the coaching staff are considering it as an option for at least part of Sunday’s game against the All Blacks.

Interviewed earlier today [Wednesday], the South African insisted he would give nothing away about the coaching team’s preferred starting line-up for the Autumn Nations Series match against New Zealand. That is set to be announced on  Friday afternoon, and the odds are still in favour of Kinghorn beginning the game in the No 10 jersey and Russell starting on the bench. Nevertheless, the idea of the two stand-offs being on the field at the same time for at least part of the game is an intriguing one. 

Russell has been moved to inside centre in the past and would have no difficulty in taking up the role again, while Kinghorn could also thrive there as a strike runner. It might be seen as a high-risk venture, to be brought into action only if the game was in the balance going into the last quarter. But it would also be a selection which at least tried to make maximum use of the squad’s creativity.

After initially being left out of the national squad for the current series of four home games, Russell was only recalled to the ranks on Monday after it was confirmed that Adam Hastings – who began last Saturday’s match against Fiji ahead of Kinghorn – would be ruled out of this weekend’s game because of injury. 

The Racing 92 playmaker had not been involved since the Six Nations, having sat out the summer tour to South America, but Zondagh has already seen him have a galvanising effect on the squad. “Finn is a really positive guy and he has brought some real good energy into the squad,” the assistant coach said. “So it’s really good to have him back. It’s brilliant. 

“Finn is a really good player, he’s been part of our group for a long time, so he understands the DNA of the team. He’s slotted right in. I think he’ll be good value for us if he’ll be starting or on the bench.

“I won’t give away too much in terms of the team that’s starting. But what I can say is that I know that he’ll have a good impact, that’s for sure.

“I think Finn and Blair have a really good relationship. They feed well off each other off the field, they help each other out, so in terms of Blair’s performance or how he feels about it, I think he’s happy to have Finn back in the squad too. 

“I think it’s really difficult to say if they will play together or not. It all depends on what happens in the game.

“You can’t predict injuries or tactical subs. But I think it would be exciting, personally, if both of them were on the field at the same time.”

Townsend insisted last month that his initial omission of Russell from his squad for the Autumn Nations Series was based on form and consistency. That argument was greeted sceptically by many people, including the coaches at Racing, who insisted the Scot had been their most important player in quite a few matches already this season.

But whatever anyone thinks of how well Russell played a month or so ago, there is no denying the fact that in recent weeks he has been in particularly inspired form for Racing. And, echoing remarks made by another Scotland assistant, John Dalziel, last week, Zondagh said he thought that was a response to being axed.

“I think he’s reacted positively,” he continued. “Form is something that comes and goes with players.

“I just have to commend him on how he’s reacted and how he’s played in the last couple of games. He made a massive impact in the last game he played – and the two previous games as well. We’re really impressed with the way he’s going and we’re really happy to have him here.”

No matter who is in the 23 for Sunday, Zondagh knows that Scotland will need to raise their game considerably to have a chance of beating the All Blacks, who beat Wales 55-23 last week. “They scored eight tries at the weekend and they’re a brilliant side,” he added. “I do think there are opportunities against them, but obviously it’s not going to be an easy game. 

“I think we’re putting ourselves into good positions on the field and we’re creating opportunities. Our skill execution definitely needs to improve and we’re obviously working on that week to week.   

“But we’re happy with where we’re at. And I’m sure we’re going to put in a good performance on Sunday.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1356 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. This whining about russel, townsend and kinghorn is getting old.
    Kinghorn at 12 sounds a clever and exciting proposition. 12 had always been a undecided position for Scotland since Johnsons form dropped off. Tiopulutu is a decent one up runner but not very creative. Kinghorn is an excellent runner, is creative, very clever in attack, is deceptively large and strong. Seems to be a ideal choice. Russel inside offers a much needed kicker and is better at tactical kicks (which tend to be from 10 more than 12). I feel this may have been the main idea for townsend, just russel at 10 now and not Hastings.
    I would have considered Hastings at 15 also if he was not injured. Hogg seems off form. Probably would prefer ollie smith now but not so clear cut.

  2. I genuinely don’t know want to see that 10-12 combo and I want to see Blair at 15 in his preferred position, Finn has to start and I just don’t see what they see in Sione Tuipulotu, I haven’t seen anything special in him to warrant to possibly starting against NZ, I really hope bennet gets the shout now that cam redpath has went back to bath. I really think it’s time for a change in head coach, I think we have the best calibre of players at our disposal ever and depth, witch we have severely lacked over the years, they aren’t getting the best out of them to play for Scotland.

  3. We should also get our new mind coach to speak to the ref before the game. “Look into my eyes..not around the eyes…and your under.. New Zealand will get 5 yellow cards today…”.

  4. Not sure where the idea of Kinghorn at 12 has come from. In all my time watching Edinburgh I don’t think he has played in the centre and Im not sure he is the ideal centre material. You need a strong tackler at 12 and Im not sure BK has that. Its not something to try against the AB’s – we actually have a lot of centres (not all in the squad) so were not short of specialist centres.

  5. So it would appear the new media strategy is to get an assistant coach to go out and make a few provocative comments.

    I’m amazed that the media team haven’t been headhunted by other companies for this radical approach.

  6. There should be a film made of this – “Saving Fly-half Russell” – with plenty of references to “FUBAR”.
    It seems to me that the only people benefiting at the moment at PR agents. Regardless of fault and blame, the entire coaching set up needs a reset. Rory Sutherland was saying how distracting and destructive the meltdown at Worcester was for everyone; I can only imagine that despite a shiny gloss being applied, the rest of the National squad must struggle to concentrate on preparing for what is a massive game.

  7. Don’t be surprised if Scotland take the field wearing clown shoes and boxing gloves on Sunday. Another genius move from our keystone coaching team.

  8. Would it not be better to pick the best players in their accustomed positions, or is that a radical suggestion for this deluded coaching team?

    • Quite. As for AB Zondagh, he comes with some pedigree but if anything our attack has been the major area of regression in the last year. We looked a bit hapless against Fiji who defended aggressively but left huge holes we should have been able to exploit.

      • Is it just me or is the main source of optimism regarding this squad the possibility that we will have a change if coaches and an injection of common sense pragmatism and man management ?

    • You might think so but clearly like the rest of us you’re not seeing what townsend sees, or is being told to see. I suppose you could play Russell at 10 and kinghorn at 12 that might work.

  9. The suggestion I made regarding others in the Coaching staff being more amenable to the return of Russell may well have some foundation with the statements that have come out in the last week or so including the ones mentioned in the article.
    However I wonder where the somewhat lame comments originated that appear to be Face-savers that Russell has ‘picked up his game’ seem a bit belated not to say disingenuous.
    Then there is the statement that ‘they could be on the field together’ followed by ‘it all depends on the run of the game’: where did that format originate? For goodness sake can’t Townsend select players in position? It’s the All Blacks not Bagford Vipers ExB, what is he trying to prove?
    Already I am fearful of his selection process for the game as some sort of mish mash in order to prove a point, the difference between us [Townsend] is [apart from my lack of ability in comparison on field or as a Coach] that if I am wrong with my ‘doom and gloom’ thoughts I will apologise on Monday and obviously declare that ‘I will learn from this’.

    • Hi george,
      I don’t think that difference between you and Townsend is your lack of ability as a coach it is your honesty about it. Let’s all keep learning those lessons.

    • as I sit here Townsend hasn’t picked Russell and Kinghorn to play together. We have an assistant saying he personally he thinks it would be exciting, so I fail to see what you are blaming Townsend for.

      FWIW, it won’t happen barring injuries – depending on the bench its a combination that could easily happen. If Russell is in the match day 23

      • You are correct when you say we don’t know Townsend’s thoughts. Assistant Coach Zondagh “insisted he would give nothing away about the coaching team’s [Townsend’s?] preferred starting line-up” having just said how exciting it would be to see them both on the field together: ‘at some stage’.
        Firstly I can’t think of any assistant that makes a Media statement that isn’t sanctioned by the Boss. There’s my concern, Townsend will continue with his judgements to the potential detriment of a natural team structure.
        Secondly having in many peoples estimation an agenda, Townsend will continue to manipulate a situation that will allow him to ‘regret having to take this [cobbled together] line up because of the injury to Hastings’ and thereby be able to offer up the excuse ‘we will learn from this’. The inference that BK will move to 12 and Russell comes on eventually at 10! Or Russell starts 10 BK 12! Really, that is just the sort of experimental approach you don’t need up against New Zealand, or is the inference that Russell goes to 12 from the get go, who knows, surely even you can’t think Russell doesn’t make the match day 23, even if you suggest it.
        Friday will tell, Sunday will tell even more.

    • George
      floating an idea as a distraction….

      What he actually said was
      “I think it’s really difficult to say if they will play together or not. It all depends on what happens in the game.
      “You can’t predict injuries or tactical subs. But I think it would be exciting, personally, if both of them were on the field at the same time.”

      Hardly a definite suggestion both will start, quite the opposite. And we don’t know if his response was in reply to a question/suggestion from a journo that both could start (often these sort of comments are exactly that, bit we don’t know)

      The agenda here is yours, accusing Townsend of something he hasn’t done. If he picks both to start, I’ll be in front of you in the queue to criticise

      Until then I’ll deal in facts

      • Who is floating an idea as a distraction? Zondagh? In any event why would he do that unless Townsend has asked him to.
        I accept your comment that I have an agenda I can only hope that you can see that Townsend has one as well, and his is instrumental to the success or failure of Scottish International Rugby, mine is just an Alickadoo that wants Townsend to do what he is employed to do, that is put the best team on the pitch.
        If you are looking for a ‘fact’ for my money one irrefutable fact is Townsend is letting his personal attitude influence the team and players positions to the detriment of the Scottish Rugby.

    • and lets not forget both on the filed at the same time does mean at 10 and 12
      Kinghorn has made many squads on the back of his ability to cover the back 3 – playing 10 as well just adds to that flexibility, starting at 10 (as I think he will) doesn’t change that

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