Scotland squad: Why Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg have been snubbed for Autumn Nations Series
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Russell has been left out of the squad for the Autumn Nations Series while Edinburgh flanker Ritchie has replaced Hogg as skipper for games against Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina at BT Murrayfield. Townsend challenged Russell to win his place back through form while claimed being stripped of the captaincy was in Hogg's best interests.
Both were among six players who broke team protocol by going out for a drink during the Guinness Six Nations and were rested for the summer tour of South America. Of the six, only Russell and broken-jaw victim Sam Johnson are not in the latest squad. Edinburgh's Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings of Gloucester and Glasgow's Ross Thompson will battle for the number 10 jersey.
Townsend issued a simple "no" when questioned as to whether the disciplinary issue influenced his selection and further explained his choice of stand-offs. "It's really to reward form and consistency," he said. "Blair has really developed as a 10 since he moved there over a year ago and had a really good tour, got better and better in the summer, and has played really well for Edinburgh this year.
“Adam has responded very well to being left out of the squad last season. He was going to tour but picked up an injury and has been in very good form for his club Gloucester this year. Ross hasn't played as many games but had an excellent season for Glasgow last year. For someone like Finn Russell, who has missed out on the squad and has played a lot of games for us in the past, it's a challenge for him to show his form and consistency over the next few weeks."
After naming Ritchie his captain following the hamstring injury that ruled him out of the Argentina Test series, Townsend said: "It's a real positive that Jamie is captaining Edinburgh just now. He is a very competitive player, been one of our key players over the past few years and him being back fit, this is a great opportunity for him.
“We have grown leadership over the past few years. Stuart has done a very good job as captain. We see this decision as bringing the best out in Stuart. Stuart can be one of the best players in the world, and certainly one of the best players in our team, and we look forward to seeing him do that over the next few weeks. As you can imagine, he cares so much about playing for Scotland and leading Scotland, he was disappointed. But he has got behind the team, got behind Jamie. He is viewing it as much as a positive as possible to make sure that he can focus on playing his best rugby, which is the aim."
Australia international Jack Dempsey has been called up after switching allegiances while his uncapped Glasgow team-mates Murphy Walker and Stafford McDowall are also included in Townsend's squad. Number eight Dempsey won 14 caps for Australia but has been able to join the Scotland set-up under recently-introduced World Rugby rules that allow players to change sides following a three-year period of international inactivity.
Townsend said: “Jack became available with the law change, he has played Test rugby before. He has been outstanding for Glasgow ever since he arrived at Scotstoun and he has started this season in very good form. With him committing to us, it provides real competition to the back row. His way of playing fits in with how we want our team to play and our forwards in particular.
“Murphy was really good on tour, missed out narrowly on getting a Test cap in Argentina, but we have been impressed with how he has been training and playing in the Super Six and also at the weekend with Glasgow. And Stafford McDowall has really started the season well. With Sam Johnson's injury, Stafford comes in there and I'm sure he will be desperate to train with his new team-mates.”
Richie Gray has been given the chance to add to his 67 caps, the last of which came in the 2021 Six Nations. “I believe Richie is playing the best rugby of his career," Townsend said.