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Putting Carter in the shade sends Russell into the spotlight for Lions

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend reckons Finn Russell’s big-match temperament will thrust him into the spotlight when it comes to British & Irish Lions fly-half selection.

Russell, 24, pictured below, was outstanding in Glasgow’s impressive recent victories over Racing 92, outplaying New Zealand double World Cup-winning stand-off Dan Carter on back-to-back weekends.

Townsend insists the 22-cap Scotland star has done enough to enter the thoughts of Lions boss Warren Gatland, who must also consider the claims of Ireland’s Jonny Sexton, England pair George Ford and Owen Farrell and Wales hot-shot Dan Biggar.

“Finn deserved to be in the Lions conversation before the games against Racing but he’s playing with lots of confidence and parts of his game have got really strong over the last couple of years,” Townsend, Scotland’s head coach-elect, told The Rugby Paper.

“The exciting thing is there’s a lot more to come from Finn. His performance away in Racing was excellent and in the home game, especially in the first half, his running game was very good and he loves those big games that bring out the best in him.

“The bigger the challenges, the more his confidence rises and although that’s not a usual trait with a lot of players, it’s a great one to have in those decision-making positions. His kicking’s at 82 per cent so that stands up to scrutiny on the big occasion as well.

“Finn’s been up against Dan Carter and a lot of other big players in big environments, too. He’s started at Scotland at stand-off for the last two-and-a-half years so even though British & Irish rugby is full of quality players, I expect him to be in the mix.”

Six Nations performances will heavily influence Gatland’s selection and Townsend is confident that Scotland, who boasted the third best winning record in Test rugby behind England and New Zealand in 2016, are set to be highly competitive.

He said: “There’s a lot of confidence in the Scottish game and the way they played in November was excellent. With three home games in this year’s Six Nations the crowd will get right behind the team and it’s heightened my excitement for the year ahead.

“Glasgow had 14 players in the last Scotland game from a 23-man squad, so you’d like to think a good few will be in contention for Lions selection.”

Townsend takes over from Vern Cotter as Scotland boss in June, which scuppered his opportunity of joining the Lions coaching staff in New Zealand.

He explained: “Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out. I’ve got the dream job coaching my country and while being involved with the Lions would have been a dream as well, my full-time focus has to be on Scotland’s summer tour.

“Coaching the Lions in future is something that’s out of my hands now and I’ve got a lot to learn as an international coach, but we’ll be close by in Australia so hopefully I’ll see a number of our Scotland players doing well in New Zealand.”

Townsend still has unfinished business with Glasgow and would love to take his side to the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup for the first time.

Glasgow lead their Pool with matches against Munster and Leicester to come, with Townsend adding: “We had two great results against Racing and to beat the Top 14 champions on their own patch was a real statement of intent from us.

“To see the players play with so much energy and positivity was a real boost to everyone in the Scottish game, but the significance of those wins will only come through if we do well over our next two games against Munster and Leicester.

“We’ve worked hard to get out of our Pool over the last two seasons and not quite done it, so we need two big performances to give ourselves that opportunity. Achieving success with Glasgow this season would be a great way to bow out.”

NEALE HARVEY

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