FINN RUSSELL’S abrupt departure from the Scotland squad – certainly for Saturday’s Six Nations opener and likely for the whole tournament – is undoubtedly a set-back for Scotland, but if we are grasping for silver linings then it has at least created opportunities elsewhere in the squad.
Adam Hastings is the most obvious case in point, with the Glasgow Warriors man now odds-on to make his first Six Nations start in Dublin next weekend, while Duncan Weir, who has been called up to the squad in Russell’s place, has also been given a chance to stake his claim for a first international appearance since Gregor Townsend took over as head coach in the summer of 2017.
Meanwhile, Rory Hutchinson – who was very unfortunate to miss out on Scotland’s World Cup squad after an impressive second half of the 2018-19 season with Northampton Saints and a strong summer in the national camp – will be hoping that this new vacancy will increase his chances of making the match-day 23, if Townsend can’t bring himself to give Weir the nod.
The former Scotland Under-20s cap is principally a centre – which is arguably the most competitive position in the squad with Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Chris Harris, Matt Scott and Kyle Steyn all competing for the two available jerseys, while Duncan Taylor didn’t even make the cut this time round – so being able to cover the stand-off slot as well could give him a valuable point of difference.
“I have done some training sessions covering 10,” said the 23-year-old last Monday, speaking after the Russell blow-out but before news of it had broken. “I used to play there at Under-20s. It’s another string to the bow. I’m always happy to step in. I quite like stepping in at first receiver.
“As a 12 who distributes a lot, it’s a great habit to get into. Step up to first receiver, get the confidence and everything like that. Whether it be at 12 getting the ball off 9 or being at 10, just being able to direct the team is always a great skill to have.
“Wherever I’m put, I’ll give 100 percent,” he added.
Hutchinson played the full 80 minutes for Northampton on Friday night in their home defeat to London Irish. It was a set-back for the high-flying Midlands team, but they can take some comfort from the fact the Exeter Chiefs also slipped up [at home to Sale Sharks] so they remain just one point off the pace at the top of the Premiership table.
On the whole, it has been a pretty positive season so far for the Saints and Hutchinson is hoping to bring some of that feel-good factor to a squad still nursing the scars of its early World Cup exit and subsequent damaging internal rift.
“I wanted to get back and play rugby, that’s all I could do [after missing out on the World Cup squad. You get better every time you play and for me it’s about getting consistent rugby and I’ve been getting that under Chris [Boyd] at Northampton,” said the man who has been an ever-present for the Saints in the English Premiership this season.
“I’m not sure if I was proving a point, I just knew that I had to get on with it. I went back to Northampton and just play rugby, and that’s helped me when coming back into [international] camp.
“I felt like I’d played well in the [World Cup] warm-ups, but there are a lot of good players in my position and I was one to miss out. Gregor gave me his feedback and I’ll keep that personal, but he gave me work-ons which I’m still trying to do now. There’s always work-ons, you’re never perfect. But I wanted to keep the relationship healthy and it’s going well. I want to show him that I’m still improving.”
“I wouldn’t say it was a let-down [to be left out],” he continued. “He has an opinion and he wants me to be the best player I can be. Him giving me feedback is helping me become a better player.
“At Northampton, it has been great because a lot of young people have come up, and I feel we’re doing quite well. I hope I can come up now into Scotland and help them start afresh after the World Cup, so that we can start building for the next one in four years’ time.
“The Six Nations is a really exciting challenge. We have Ireland first, away, and everyone’s really excited because we want to prove a point. After a disappointing World Cup we want to come back and not just compete but beat the best teams. We’re really looking forward to a fresh start in a new competition.
“We want to win all our games. We don’t want to go there and get rolled over, we want to go there and win. We want to be the very best.”
The Scotland squad flew out to their training camp in Spain earlier today [Sunday], and will head straight to Dublin on Thursday.