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.”