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Men's Rugby Union Townsend: Russell was always going to start against England

FINN RUSSELL’S Scotland place was in “no doubt” against England, head coach Gregor Townsend said today.

The Scotland fly-half has been well below his mercurial best so far in the Six Nations and an error-strewn performance against France saw him replaced with the game still in the balance.

Russell is seen as one of the leaders of Townsend’s Scotland team and was highly influential in an impressive autumn.

However, the 25-year-old has struggled to live up to the hype in the Six Nations so far, struggling against both Wales and France, where he was substituted with the Scots still chasing the game.

The Racing 92-bound playmaker has come in for criticism for his performances, but Townsend is firmly behind his man after naming an unchanged XV to face England in the Calcutta Cup this weekend.

“There was no doubt he would start,” the Scotland head coach said. “He played well a lot in the France game.

“He did have a couple of kicking errors and that happens, but a lot of the positive play we had in both halves, Finn was a part of that.

“He’s our attack leader, he’s an outstanding stand-off and very competitive and determined to work on the areas he needs to work on.

“He’s going to be a key player for us this weekend.”

He added: “People are very keen to look at one error and say he’s not playing well.

“A lot of parts of his game are working in well and he’s put in a lot of effort to make sure he’s playing well this weekend.”

A win at Murrayfield on Saturday would be a huge lift to the Scotland team and an important stage in their development after being thrashed in the reverse fixture at Twickenham last year.

However, they find themselves up against Eddie Jones’s ruthless England side who have lost just one game in the last two years.

A defeat would all but end Scotland’s title hopes, and Townsend’s hand has been boosted for the must-win tie by the return to fitness of WP Nel and Tim Swinson, both of whom are named on the bench along with Nick Grigg.

However he remains aware that his side has to play better than they did last time out in a scrappy 32-26 win over France if they are to stand a chance at the weekend.

“We will have to play better,” the Scot admitted. “We know England are a bigger challenge than France currently.

“They’re in great form and we won’t find as many opportunities, but we have to keep looking for them.

“We have to defend better and put even more effort into the whole game, especially the second half.”

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