The British and Irish Lions enter the third Test against South Africa with a must-win mentality, and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend believes fly-half Finn Russell could make the difference
The Lions have at times faced criticism on this tour for not showcasing enough inventiveness in attack, and many have urged for Russell to be called up to improve in that department.
Russell, 28, may have been added to the squad sooner were it not for an Achilles injury that threatened to end his tour in early July, which led to England ’s Marcus Smith being called up as cover.
But Scotland chief Gregor Townsend —who is Gatland’s attack coach in South Africa—has faith there’s still time for his charge to make a telling contribution.
“He’s got himself on the bench because we know he can ask different questions than any fly-half in the world and he’s trained really well this week, outstanding on Tuesday and again yesterday,” Townsend told reporters ahead of the third Test.
“So he’s feeling much better around where he is with his Achilles and just connecting with others in the team. If he does get on then I look forward to seeing him play but obviously we’re looking at our 15 to begin with doing all they can to win this game.”
The Racing 92 star hasn’t played since he came on as a second-half substitute against the Sharks on July 7, kicking four out of four conversion attempts in the 54-7 win.
Russell enters the third Test having played just 90 minutes of the tour, but there can be little doubting he brings an extra dab of ingenuity that few, if any, others among the squad can.
England captain Farrell has dropped out of the squad altogether so that Russell can get his shot under Test conditions, though fans will hope his very particular set of skills aren’t required.
Russell is among a few selections who looks to have been summoned in case the Lions find themselves chasing a deficit, though he may not be considered the safest pick to keep hold of a lead.
It speaks volumes of Townsend’s renewed respect for his No. 10 given he dropped Russell for the 2020 Six Nations due to disciplinary issues, only to recall the player in October.
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Northern-hemisphere fans will hope for a more conclusive result after seeing the Lions succumb 27-9 in the second Test, which was blighted by referee stoppages and lasted more than 130 minutes.
Townsend said the Lions have spoken to Mathieu Raynal—who will referee the third Test—in the hopes they can see a smoother game between the two teams in the decider.
“Yeah, we have made the point that we don’t want unnecessary stoppages,” said the Scotland coach.
“You keep the tempo and the flow of the game through your own accuracy and decision-making. When the game stops for a scrum or line-out, you want it restarted as quickly as possible.
“Everybody who is watching it at home does, so I’d like to think that it will be a shorter game this weekend than last weekend.”