Ireland became back-to-back Guinness Six Nations champions by crushing Scotland’s quest for a first Triple Crown in 34 years with a scrappy 17-13 win.

Andy Farrell’s hosts were well below their free-flowing best in Dublin but avoided any major ‘Super Saturday’ drama to retain the championship title.

Andrew Porter’s second-half try fatally broke the resistance of the stubborn Scots to ignite the St Patrick’s weekend celebrations and satisfy an expectant capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium.

Hooker Dan Sheehan set Ireland on course for glory – and a 10th successive win over Scotland – with an opportunistic first-half score, while Jack Crowley kicked seven points.

A pair of first-half Finn Russell penalties meant Gregor Townsend’s men trailed just 7-6 at the break and he added a late conversion following Huw Jones’ consolation try.

Yet the Scots were powerless to prevent Ireland bouncing back from the disappointment of their dream of successive Grand Slams being agonisingly ended by England last weekend.

Underdogs Scotland crossed the Irish Sea with a slender chance of snatching the title but realistically seeking to secure a first Triple Crown since 1990 following a chastening round-four loss to Italy.

Their mission to rip up the script began in positive fashion thanks to an early Russell penalty before Sheehan was gifted his fifth try of the tournament by George Turner’s overthrown lineout.

The fortunate 13th-minute score, converted by Crowley, did little to settle Irish nerves and the fired-up Scots kept up the pressure with another three points from Russell’s boot.

Farrell’s men were struggling to gain meaningful territory during a cagey opening period punctuated with errors and frequent kicking exchanges amid a subdued atmosphere.

Crowley squandered a long-range penalty to stretch the slender advantage as resolute Scotland remained relatively untroubled, while offering a threat on the counter attack.

Ireland, who had been forced to replace injured full-back Hugo Keenan with Jordan Larmour just before kick-off, trudged down the tunnel leading by only a single point and with major room for improvement.

Scotland head coach Townsend acknowledged pre-match that his side needed to produce “something special” to spoil the Irish party and bounce back from a dismal display in Rome.

Crowley made their uphill task slightly harder with a straightforward penalty before the visitors received a major reprieve when Tadhg Furlong’s apparent touch down was chalked off following a lengthy review as referee Matthew Carley deemed the ball had been dislodged.

Heroic last-ditch defending was the only thing preventing a rampant home side showing renewed purpose from fully taking control of the contest.

Scotland flanker Andy Christie superbly halted the weaving Calvin Nash with the try line in touching distance before rusty Ireland replacement Garry Ringrose inexplicably fumbled.

Ringrose, making his first appearance of the tournament following a shoulder injury, atoned with a lung-busting intercept run which led to Ireland’s crucial second try.

Robbie Henshaw was adjudged to have been held up on the line in the immediate aftermath before Porter subsequently powered over from a tap-and-go penalty following a yellow card for Ewan Ashman.

Supporters responded with a rousing rendition of the Fields of Athenry, fully believing the job was done.

However, home fans were forced to endure a nervy final couple of minutes after replacement fly-half Harry Byrne was sin binned for a head-on-head challenge on Russell and Scotland centre Jones broke clear to touch down.

Ireland duly avoided any further issues to jubilantly celebrate a fifth championship title in 11 years – and sixth overall – to underline their status as the northern hemisphere’s leading nation.

Scotland talisman Finn Russell is unfazed by the prospect of being targeted by England’s new blitz defence in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown at Murrayfield.

The Red Rose have adopted a more aggressive approach for this year’s Guinness Six Nations after highly-regarded defence coach Felix Jones joined Steve Borthwick’s backroom team in the wake of helping South Africa win the World Cup. 

England are expected to try to swarm stand-off Russell and his midfield colleagues in an effort to neutralise Scotland, but the 31-year-old has no issue with the possibility of being singled out.

“It’s probably similar to a lot of teams in that the 10s are the key players in attack,” said co-captain Russell. “I’m not sure what England are going to do – if they are going to fire out the line and try to take me out or shut me down from the outside.

“That is something we will have to figure out in the game. We will have to be able to adapt, with myself and Sione (Tuipulotu) and Huw (Jones) being on the same page and having Blair (Kinghorn) out wide as another option.

“Although the 10 controls a lot of the attack, it is not just down to me to create things. We will be looking to other boys to get away from them.”

Scotland were tamed the last time they came up against a Jones-inspired blitz defence when they lost 18-3 to South Africa at the World Cup in September, but Russell insists they have learned from that encounter.

“We have looked back and talked about that game, and obviously looked at England’s first two games of this campaign,” said Russell. “I think our learnings from the World Cup were not to go into our shells if we do feel the pressure.

“There were chances in that game against South Africa that we probably never saw on the pitch. Under pressure we probably went into our shell a little bit.

“Tomorrow we just need to have belief in ourselves and trust the work we have put in over the last six months to a year.

“At times we will be under pressure and it will be tough, but we can fall back to what we have done building up to this game.

“We can have belief and confidence in ourselves and hopefully we can take the chances that will be out there.”

After Russell lost his first three Calcutta Cup matches, including a 61-21 defeat at Twickenham in 2017, the Scots have won each of the last three meetings and have lost only one of the last six.

“With us and England, we have been progressing and over the last few years they have potentially not been as good as they can be,” said Russell. “But the World Cup showed how good they can be, getting to the semi-finals.

“Obviously they have won their first two games of this campaign so they are getting back to where they should be. They are one of the best teams in the world.

“We can’t look back at the last few games and think it has turned in our favour. Every time we play England, it is always a huge challenge and we have got to be at our best to be able to beat them.”

Jamie Ritchie has been restored to Scotland’s starting XV for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with England a fortnight after being dropped from the squad altogether for the Guinness Six Nations home defeat by France.

The recently deposed captain is back in the side as one of three changes made by Gregor Townsend, with experienced duo Blair Kinghorn and Kyle Steyn returning to the back three.

Kyle Rowe, Harry Paterson and Matt Fagerson – all of whom started against Les Bleus – drop out of the squad altogether, with the bench unchanged.

Ritchie – who lost the captaincy to Finn Russell and Rory Darge earlier this year – started the first match of the Six Nations away to Wales before being left out against France, but the 27-year-old Edinburgh flanker is back in the number six jersey in place of Fagerson this weekend.

Toulouse full-back Kinghorn returns after missing the opening two matches with a knee injury sustained days before the championship began, while Glasgow wing Steyn – who started against Wales – is back in the mix after having to withdraw from the team on the morning of the France game when his wife went into labour.

Rowe, who started the first two matches in the absence of Kinghorn, has not made the squad this weekend, while 22-year-old Edinburgh back Paterson, who was drafted in at the last minute to start against France following Steyn’s withdrawal, is also out.

Finn Russell admitted Scotland should not have got themselves into a position for the officials to effectively decide the outcome of their dramatic Guinness Six Nations match against France.

Ben White’s try gave Scotland a seventh-minute lead and they felt they should have been more than 16-10 in front by the time the French – who had prop Uini Atonio sin-binned just before half-time – turned Saturday’s game in their favour in the closing 10 minutes.

Les Bleus – whose tries came from Gael Fickou and Louis Bielle-Biarrey – held on for a 20-16 victory but only after an astonishing finale in which Scotland were convinced substitute Sam Skinner had scored a match-winning try in the game’s last action.

Referee Nic Berry’s initial call was “no try” and after several minutes of deliberating with TMO Brian MacNeice amid incredible tension, it looked like they were about to award the score before eventually deciding the images were inconclusive.

The Scots were livid but co-captain Russell conceded the game should never have boiled down to that last-gasp flashpoint.

“Personally I believe it was a try at the end, but it’s up to the referee to decide that,” said the stand-off.

“We can’t let the referee decide what happens in a game, it’s up to us to play better and make these matches a victory.”

Although disappointed, Russell believes it was a sign of Scotland’s resilience that they almost dug out victory despite relinquishing their long-held lead in the closing stages.

“It was a bit of magic from France (for Bielle-Biarrey’s 70th-minute try), but I think the way we got back into the game and the way I believe that we scored, it shows the character we’ve got,” he said.

“We didn’t lose belief when we fell four points down with three minutes left. I’m proud of the boys for the performance but we need to take our learnings from it going into the England game.”

The Scots host their old rivals a week on Saturday knowing they will need a Calcutta Cup victory to hoist themselves back into championship contention.

“We’ll take it easy next week,” said Russell. “Some of the boys have got to train, some haven’t. We just need some time away from rugby. It’s an intense competition.

“We’ll take some time away and then come back to get ready for that England game. A massive challenge awaits us and we’ll need to be ready.”

One man who may have played his way into contention for the England showdown is 22-year-old Edinburgh back Harry Paterson, who produced an impressive debut after being summoned to start at full-back on the morning of the match when Kyle Steyn’s wife went into labour.

“It’s one of the best debuts I’ve ever seen,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “Going up against that French backline on a wet day at Murrayfield, he was excellent.

“I gave him a heads-up that he could be playing about 9am then confirmed it at 10am.

“To play like that was fantastic and gives us a lot of encouragement about where Harry can go over these next few years.

“He knew he’d have a lot of kicks to field due to the way France play and with the weather being wet, but he just got stronger and stronger as the game went on.

“But Kyle Rowe deserves a mention as well. That was only his second Test start and, like Harry, I thought he was excellent.

“We are building depth in the back three.”

Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s late try proved pivotal as France dug out a dramatic 20-16 Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield – but only after a controversial decision not to award the hosts a try in the last action of the match.

Les Bleus – who lost 38-17 at home to Ireland in their opener last weekend – looked in danger of starting the championship with back-to-back defeats as they trailed for most of the match after Ben White’s seventh-minute try.

However, Bielle-Biarrey’s moment of inspiration in the 70th minute allowed the French – who had scored in the first half through Gael Fickou – to get themselves in front.

The Scots – looking to make it back-to-back wins after their triumph in Wales last weekend – staged a late rally and thought they had claimed the victory when they forced their way over the line after the 80-minute mark, but following a lengthy TMO review, it was deemed they had not grounded the ball.

Scotland – already missing key back-three members Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham through injury – were forced into a late change in the back division when wing Kyle Steyn withdrew after his wife went into labour. The uncapped Harry Paterson, who was not in the initial 23, was enlisted to start at full-back, with Kyle Rowe – due to be starting in the 15 jersey – shifting to the wing.

The Scots went ahead with a superbly worked try in the seventh minute, with some quick passing from Duhan van der Merwe, Paterson and Huw Jones on the right paving the way for Toulon scrum-half White, who did well to avoid dropping the ball before holding off the attention of two Frenchmen trying to grapple him as he slid gleefully over the line. Finn Russell converted.

The visitors got their first points in the 12th minute through a Thomas Ramos penalty. And they looked certain to get themselves in front three minutes later when Fickou saw a gap on the left and went for it, but Van der Merwe got back to made a vital challenge just before the line, which was deemed by the officials to be legal, much to the frustration of Les Bleus.

The Scots generally looked the more assured of the two sides, however, and a couple of Russell penalties in the 22nd minute and then just before the half hour, nudged them 10 points clear.

A stark reminder of the French threat came in the 31st minute when they worked an opening on the right for Fickou who forced his way over the line despite the best efforts of Jones to halt him. Ramos converted, bringing his team within three points of their hosts.

The French – who played the majority of the Ireland game with 14 men last weekend – suffered a blow two minutes before the interval when Uini Atonio was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Matt Fagerson.

The Scots were camped in front of the French line for the closing minutes of the first half but were unable to reward themselves with further points as they went in at the interval with a slender 13-10 lead.

Fagerson – who had been in the wars in the first half – was replaced by Saracens back-rower for the start of the second period.

Following his indiscipline, Atonio would have been hugely relieved to return to the fray with no further scoreline damage incurred by his side.

There was a sense that the failure to take advantage of the prop’s time in the sin bin might come back to bite them, but another penalty from Russell in the 59th minute opened up a six-point advantage and eased some of the tension among the home support.

Just as the hosts looked to have a good level of control, France turned the game in their favour in the 70th minute when Bielle-Biarrey raced on to his own kick over the top and touched down on the left. Ramos converted to put Les Bleus a point ahead.

The full-back then added a penalty in the 77th minute, ensuring the Scots would need a try to won the game. They momentarily thought they had it in the dying moments before the officials cut short their celebrations.

Scotland captain Finn Russell reflected on a range of emotions after his team ended their Cardiff hoodoo by thwarting an astonishing Wales fightback at the Principality Stadium.

A nerve-shredding 27-26 victory was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002, but it did not come before they were left staring at a 12th successive defeat as Wales threatened arguably the greatest Six Nations recovery act.

Having helped orchestrate a 27-point lead two minutes into the second half, Russell could have been excused for thinking it was a case of job done.

But Wales had other ideas, scoring four tries during 20 minutes of mayhem that included yellow cards for Scotland pair George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu, transforming what had been a hopelessly one-sided encounter.

Scotland also conceded 14 successive penalties, such was the ferocity and unrelenting nature of Wales’ all-court game.

Just when it was required, though, Scotland showed courage and composure during the closing minutes to dominate territory and go close to claiming a bonus-point fourth try.

“We had a really good first half and a brilliant start to the second, then a bit of complacency crept in,” Russell said.

“We had discipline issues in the second half which led to two yellow cards and them really getting on the front foot.

“But it showed that we’ve come quite a long way that we managed to win the game in the end. We held tough and did not allow them to get anything towards the end.

“I am probably a little bit disappointed with the second half, but overall it is a great start to the tournament for us. We’ve not won here in 22 years.

“We managed to dig it out in the end, but it shows how tough a place it (Cardiff) is to come. Wales never went away, and that was the pressure the team put us under, but also that the crowd getting involved.

“I’ve played in games with Scotland like that when we have lost, and that was the most pleasing thing, that we managed to find a way to win even though momentum, the crowd, everything was against us towards the end.

“There was loads of good stuff in that first half. With the way everything unfolded in the second half, I am a little bit down, a little bit frustrated, but when we look back there will be loads of positives to take.

“It (the second-half performance) was nowhere near where we need to be. But that is something we will address on Monday and we will build on the back of it and get ready for France (next weekend).”

Les Bleus will arrive at Murrayfield following a crushing defeat against Ireland, and Scotland can also take heart from beating France five times out of the last seven attempts in Edinburgh.

Their mission, though, will be undertaken without lock Richie Gray, who could miss the rest of this season’s Six Nations due to a biceps injury.

And flanker Luke Crosbie is a major doubt after hurting his shoulder, with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend stating: “Both are in a lot of pain.

“Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a biceps injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle. Let’s hope he has not done any significant damage there.”

Gregor Townsend feared another dramatic Cardiff collapse would cost Scotland their first win over Wales at the Principality Stadium for 22 years.

Head coach Townsend was an assistant to Andy Robinson in 2010 when Wales scored 17 points in the final few minutes in Cardiff to incredibly turn a 14-24 deficit in to a 31-24 victory.

But this time Scotland – who were 27-0 ahead a few minutes into the second half – withstood a Welsh onslaught to win 27-26 and get their Guinness Six Nations campaign off to a positive start.

“It was a bit like 2010 and it went into my thoughts as the second half went on,” said Townsend after Scotland had ended a run of 11 straight defeats in Cardiff stretching back to 2002.

“I remember the atmosphere that day when Wales had the momentum behind them and came back on the scoreboard.

“The same happened today, fortunately we stayed ahead and we were able to play well in the final five minutes.

“A lot of effort went into that last five minutes – we should have scored a try and we felt there were a couple of penalties that could have gone our way in the last passage – but it was past 80 minutes and we got the win.”

Wing Duhan Van Der Merwe scored two tries and prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down, while skipper Finn Russell was flawless with the boot in landing 12 points.

After Van Der Merwe sliced through for a stunning second try just after the restart, Scotland were on course to eclipse last year’s record win over Wales.

But that was not to be and Townsend was grateful to see Scotland hang on while cursing significant injuries to forwards Richie Gray and Luke Crosbie.

“Both are in a lot of pain,” Townsend said. “Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a bicep injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle.

“Not for next week (against France at Murrayfield), but let’s hope he’s not done any significant damage there. It’s a blow to lose two players from our starting team.”

On the nail-biting victory, Townsend added: “We were accurate and put Wales under pressure in the first half.

“Those two tries were really good reward and to have that cushion should have made it a more comfortable second half.

“The fact that it didn’t is a concern for us, but a lot of that was due to the penalty count (16 to four against Scotland) and the numerical advantage Wales had for 20 minutes.”

Wales made the most of second-half yellow cards for George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu to turn the contest on its head.

James Botham, Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann crossed, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions, as Wales secured two losing bonus points.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, whose young side head to Twickenham next Saturday to play England, said: Did we give Scotland too much respect in that first half?

“They were fully loaded and we’re a young team. To do what we did, be 27-0 down, other teams might have shown less character and start thinking about next week, even throw in the towel.

“We didn’t do that. They kept fighting and put themselves in a position to win. That showed real character and we’ve just got to play like we did in the second half.

“You can’t coach experience. When you’re out there in front of 75,000 people making that much noise and the pace is quicker than club rugby, sometimes that takes time for players to get used to.

“We’ll need a little bit of leeway, but it’s still Test rugby and it’s about winning. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

Scotland ended 22 years of hurt in Cardiff after they thwarted a spectacular Wales fightback to win an extraordinary Guinness Six Nations clash 27-26.

It was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002 – ending a run of 11 successive defeats – to set up a mouth-watering Murrayfield encounter against France next Saturday.

But Wales made them fight every inch of the way after the Scots had breezed into a 27-point lead after 42 minutes, with wing Duhan van der Merwe scoring two tries including a virtuoso long-range effort while prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down.

Captain Finn Russell kicked three conversions and two penalties, but it only told half the story.

Flanker James Botham’s try sparked the Welsh recovery then he was followed over the line by Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions.

Scotland found themselves on the rack after hooker George Turner and centre Sione Tuipulotu were sin-binned during the second period, yet they successfully closed the game out and left Wales wondering what might have been.

Both teams started brightly under the stadium’s closed roof and Scotland struck first when Russell kicked an angled 20-metre penalty, before quick lineout ball gave Tuipulotu a chance that Wales managed to defend.

Wales, though, could not stop wave after wave of attacks that led to the game’s opening try after 11 minutes.

Russell created initial space and after a strong run by wing Kyle Steyn, Scotland’s forwards took over and Schoeman crossed from close range. Russell’s conversion made it 10-0.

Scotland enjoyed scrum and lineout dominance and they controlled the opening quarter, even if Wales established promising attacking positions at times.

Russell extended Scotland’s lead with a second penalty – Wales wing Josh Adams was punished for throwing the ball away and denying Scotland a quick lineout throw – and alarm bells were beginning to ring for Gatland’s team.

Inevitably, Russell was at the heart of everything good about Scotland’s magic and he weaved his magic to devastating effect 10 minutes before half-time.

Scotland set up a strong position inside Wales’ 22 and the rest was all about Russell, who ghosted into space, threw a half-dummy pass, then delivered a try on a plate for Van der Merwe.

There appeared no way back for Wales, with their problems showing no sign of abating as fly-half Sam Costelow went off for a head injury assessment as Scotland led 20-0 at the interval.

It got even worse for Wales just two minutes into the second period when Van der Merwe carved them open from deep to claim a blistering solo touchdown, and Russell’s conversion put further daylight between the teams.

Costelow failed his HIA and Gatland made three half-time changes, sending on scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Elliot Dee and prop Keiron Assiratti, and Wales opened their account when Botham crashed over.

Turner was sin-binned for an offence in the build-up to Botham’s try and Wales struck again, this time through Dyer, with Lloyd’s conversion cutting the gap suddenly and unexpectedly to 15 points.

It was panic stations for Scotland when Tuipulotu went into the sin bin and Wales punished them immediately as Wainwright touched down for a third try in 13 minutes, with Lloyd converting.

The capacity crowd could scarcely believe what they were witnessing, but it was Williams’s influence off the bench that proved key as he injected pace and purpose into Wales’ game.

And when Mann claimed a 68th-minute try, again converted by Lloyd, the improbable dream edged closer, with Scotland looking bewildered and devoid of answers.

But they somehow held out, Wales left with the consolation of two losing bonus points.

Finn Russell insists Wales’ inexperience does not make Scotland’s chances of ending a 22-year wait to win in Cardiff any easier.

Scotland have not won at the Principality Stadium since 2002, losing 11 successive games that comprise nine Six Nations contests, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test.

But Wales have hit been hit by a long list of injuries and big-name retirements, while British and Irish Lions wing Louis Rees-Zammit has departed to try and launch a career in American football.

Scotland have arrived in Cardiff in the unusual position of being bookmakers’ favourites for this Guinness Six Nations Championship opener.

But Russell said: “With the Welsh side being slightly different to previous years I think people would see Scotland are favourites.

“I don’t view it like that. We’ve not won here in 22 years, so it shows it’s not an easy place for us to come and win.

“We’ve got a more experienced team, but that doesn’t always count on the day.

“They’ve got very exciting players who will be playing with freedom and that’s part of the joys of having a more youthful side.

“We’re more experienced and we have to lean on that.

“But we’ve got to be careful we don’t overthink the game because it’s a very dangerous team in front of us.

“The atmosphere is one of the best in the world and when the Welsh boys put that red jersey on it’s different to when they are at their clubs.

“It’s a massive challenge for us to win here. We’ve got a few new faces and a few points to prove after a disappointing World Cup, both sides have.”

The Principality Stadium roof will be closed for Saturday’s clash following a U-turn by the visitors.

Under Six Nations regulations, the roof is only closed if both teams agree to it.

Scotland had originally wanted the roof open despite a match-day forecast of persistent light rain.

But Scotland have now reversed that decision with heavier rain forecast and Wales have accepted their request.

Russell said: “For me personally it doesn’t change too much. I was at Racing for five years and they’ve got an indoor stadium. So I’m pretty used to it.

“I think the weather conditions changed over the week, so that’s why the roof is now closed.

“It will get slightly greasy inside with the humidity, but both teams are under the same conditions. It will make for an exciting and fast free-flowing game of rugby.”

Finn Russell believes Owen Farrell will be the ideal fit for Racing 92 as England’s fly-half follows in the footsteps of his 2021 Lions team-mate.

Farrell will become ineligible for England selection until 2026 after agreeing a two-year deal that will bring an end his trophy-laden time at Saracens, his only professional club.

The move to Paris next season will reunite the 32-year-old with Stuart Lancaster, Racing’s head coach who gave Farrell his England debut in 2012.

Russell spent five years with the Top 14 leaders before joining Bath after the World Cup and the Scotland playmaker, speaking before Racing confirmed the move on Monday, is backing Farrell to make it a success.

“I loved my time in Paris,” Russell told the PA news agency at the premiere of Netflix’s Six Nations: Full Contact documentary series.

“It’s really close to London so it will be easy for him to go backwards and forwards to his family.

“I don’t know what it’s like under Stuart Lancaster and it will potentially be better for Owen with Stuart being there. The two of them will know each other from the past because of Lancaster’s time at England.

“It’s a great club and a great city to live in. I loved my time there. Owen will be great, he will fit the way they are playing just now really well.


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“Everyone views him as a kicking 10 but he’s got a great attacking game as well. He will be great for them.”

Russell’s own change of scenery has revitalised the 31-year-old as well as Bath, who are riding high in the Gallagher Premiership and have reached the knockout phase of Europe.

Scotland fans will be hoping some of that magic rubs off on their team heading into the Guinness Six Nations in the wake of a disappointing group exit from the World Cup, albeit having competed in one of the toughest pools in the tournament’s history.

What is being seen as a ‘golden generation’ of Scottish talent has yet to produce tangible success in the Six Nations and Russell, one of two co-captains for the Championship, wants to end a period of underachievement.

“For us the Six Nations has been frustrating over the last few years,” Russell said. “Last year we got off to a good start but never managed to continue it.

“This year it’s ideally about doing a bit better and winning the first two, three or four games if we can.

“It would definitely be frustrating if we didn’t manage to finish up with a title given the players and strength in depth that we have in the squad. However, all the other teams are getting stronger as well.

“We’ve got great strength in depth in the squad now and we potentially have the chance to win something, but we’ve had that for the last few years and we haven’t managed it.”

Glasgow back-rower Rory Darge and Bath stand-off Finn Russell have been named as Scotland’s new co-captains for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations.

It has also been revealed that free-scoring wing Darcy Graham has been ruled out of the opening two matches through injury.

Jamie Ritchie had been the skipper since replacing Stuart Hogg in the role for the 2022 Autumn series but, with the Edinburgh flanker having been hindered by shoulder and jaw injuries following last year’s World Cup, Gregor Townsend has opted to make a change in order to “further grow and develop the leadership within the squad”.

Both Russell, 31, and Darge, 23, have previous experience of captaining the team in Ritchie’s absence.

The talismanic Russell, who has been in impressive form since moving to Bath from Racing 92, is likely to lead the Scots in the opening match away to Wales as 23-year-old Darge is expected to miss the early part of the championship as he battles to recover from a knee injury sustained at the end of December.

“Appointing co-captains for this year’s Guinness Six Nations allows us to further grow and develop the leadership within the squad,” head coach Townsend told Scottish Rugby on Sunday morning.

“Rory and Finn captained Scotland last summer and bring different strengths and styles of leadership to the table.

“Both are highly respected within our squad and have been part of our leadership group for some time.

“I’m sure they will thrive with this responsibility and lean on our other leaders to drive certain aspects of our preparation, mindset and performance.”

Ritchie was sidelined for a month after the World Cup due to a shoulder injury sustained in the first half of the pool-stage defeat by Ireland in October. After returning in mid-November for six Edinburgh matches, the back-rower suffered a jaw injury in the win over Glasgow on 30 December.

Townsend said last week that he was undecided on the captaincy and that he needed to see Ritchie “put his best foot forward” in Friday’s Challenge Cup match away to Scarlets.

However, the 27-year-old was restricted to a second-half substitute appearance as he made his return to action.

Russell’s appointment as captain is particularly significant as the influential fly-half has had a strained relationship with Townsend at times in the past.

Russell was cut from the squad ahead of the 2020 Six Nations after he missed a training session following a late-night drinking session and he was also controversially omitted from the initial squad for the 2022 autumn Tests as Townsend appeared intent on phasing him out before injuries prompted him to recall the former Glasgow fly-half midway through the series.

“Playing for Scotland is a huge honour and to co-captain the side is a privilege and something I am proud of,” Russell said.

“We have such a talented squad and to lead them alongside Rory represents a massive opportunity. I can’t wait to get started with this year’s championship.”

In the same update that confirmed the change of captaincy, Scottish Rugby revealed that Edinburgh wing Graham will miss the opening two matches away to Wales and at home to France with a quad injury.

The 26-year-old – Scotland’s second highest try-scorer of all time – has been replaced in the squad by Ross McCann, a 26-year-old wing who played for Scotland Under-20s before becoming a full-time Scotland 7s player.

Blair Kinghorn is relishing his elevated status as Scotland’s first-choice World Cup full-back after spending most of his international career to date trying to emerge from the shadows of greats Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

The 26-year-old Edinburgh back has accumulated 47 caps since his debut in 2018, largely due to his versatility in being able to operate at number 15, number 10 and even on the wing.

In trying to establish himself at full-back, Kinghorn found Hogg – Scotland’s record try-scorer – blocking his way to a starting place, while his bid to become an international stand-off always seemed unlikely for as long as the talismanic Russell was still at the top of his game.

Hogg’s retirement earlier this summer, however, opened the door for Kinghorn to set about making the 15 jersey his own.

After starting the two summer Tests against France last month, it came as little surprise when he got the nod over the less experienced full-back Ollie Smith to start the World Cup opener against South Africa.

He is expected to retain his place for Sunday’s match against Tonga in Nice as the Scots bid to bounce back from their 18-3 defeat by the Springboks.

“I feel like there’s been a different focus this pre-season, coming into the World Cup feeling like I can grab a starting jersey,” he said.

“Being able to start at 15 is something I don’t want to let go of and something I don’t take lightly.

“I’m really excited about it. Everyone always wants to be starting for their country and now that I’ve had the opportunity to start the last game, and a couple of the warm-up games to start at 15, it’s been really exciting for me.

“There’s still a lot of competition in our squad for that jersey, everyone is pushing each other, so I’ve just got to keep training well and playing well, if selected, and hopefully I can hang on to it for a while longer.”

For much of 2022, amid tension between Gregor Townsend and Russell, it looked like Kinghorn was being primed as a Scotland fly-half.

However, with Russell and the head coach having patched up their differences last November, Kinghorn’s hopes of becoming number 10 for the national team were effectively dashed.

“I think so,” he said when asked if his focus was now fully on the full-back position. “I feel comfortable back there. I’ve got the ability to cover stand-off if needed but I feel like full-back is my best suited position at the moment, and I feel like that’s where I can offer the team my strengths.”

Kinghorn knows he has big boots to fill in succeeding Hogg, one of Scotland’s greatest ever players, but he is intent on playing the position his own way.

“Obviously Hoggy was a world-class player so over the last five years since I’ve been in camp with him I’ve been picking up little bits of knowledge here and there from him, but I’m looking to put my own game into that 15 jersey,” he said.

“A lot of players play in different styles and I think me and Hoggy have contrasting styles in certain ways, but I’ll be looking to put my own stamp on the position.”

Kinghorn is enjoying his second World Cup after going to Japan in 2019 as a 22-year-old. The back was a fringe man at the last showpiece, making just two appearances and only one as a starter. He feels he has developed significantly as a player and a person since then.

“I was inexperienced and quite young when I came to my first World Cup,” said Kinghorn. “You grow and mature into these situations and you realise how hard it is to stay at the top of your game for an entire pre-season and World Cup.

“You’ve got to take your preparation and your recovery seriously. I think when you’re younger you’re a bit naive to how much work it actually takes so I feel like I’m a more mature player who has definitely dealt with a bit more life experience within rugby and I can handle situations a bit better.”

Frustrated Finn Russell hopes a two-week break between matches will allow Scotland to regroup and get Sunday’s demoralising World Cup opener against South Africa out of their system.

The Scots were unable to spark their swashbuckling attacking game as they crashed 18-3 to the Springboks in Marseille, losing the second half 12-0.

It was Gregor Townsend’s side’s lowest-scoring outing since their first game of the 2019 World Cup when they were defeated 27-3 by Ireland.

Talisman Russell said: “I’m very frustrated with the result but also with the second-half. I don’t think we showed a true reflection of the team that we are. It’s very frustrating.”

The Scots do not play again until they face Tonga in Nice on Sunday, 24 September.

When they return to action, they know they must win all three of their remaining games – the other two are against Romania and Ireland – if they are to have a chance of emerging from the formidable Pool B to reach the quarter finals.

“This was potentially the situation we were going to be in after the first game,” said Russell. “Ideally it wouldn’t have been, but now we’re in this situation we need to pick ourselves back up, we need to get going.

“We’ve got Tonga then Romania so we need to go into these games as best prepared as we can and looking to play as best we can.

“We had a 10-minute period where we let South Africa get two tries so we’ll chat about how we can get better after that second half and coming out firing straight away (after half-time) so that doesn’t happen again.

“As frustrated as we are, there is a lot to work on and still everything to play for.”

The Scotland players have been given time off with their families in the early part of this week to recover from the mental and physical demands of facing the world champions in their first game.

Russell, competing at his third World Cup, has vowed that they will come back ready for their must-win game against Tonga.

“We’ve got two weeks now so we’ll have the next few days just getting away from rugby,” said the 30-year-old. “That was very physically demanding and mentally as well.

“The next few days we’ll get away from rugby, refresh ourselves and come back on Thursday and start preparing for Tonga. That’s a massive game for us.

“We’ve got everything to play for now and to an extent nothing to lose. As tough as it is to take, in sport you have to bounce back as quick as you can and I think the boys will do that.”

Stand-off Russell was in the wars on Sunday and it looked like he may be forced off in the first half after a heavy collision left him grounded and receiving lengthy treatment.

“I’m alright,” he said. “I got a shot in the ribs and I think I was just pretty badly winded thankfully.

“The second one was a stinger which happens in rugby. These collisions happen and that’s part of it. Thankfully there’s nothing that bad.

“I’ll be good to go the next game.”

Stand-in Scotland captain Finn Russell expects France to restore their big-hitters for next weekend’s rematch in Saint-Etienne.

A second-string Les Bleus side were ripped apart by the rampant hosts in the second half of Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match at Murrayfield.

French head coach Fabian Galthie started debutant trio Paul Boudehent, Emilien Gailleton and Louis Bielle-Biarrey in Edinburgh, while Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou and Romain Ntamack were among a raft of established players given the day off.

The experimental nature of the team did not hinder the visitors in the first half as they raced into a 21-3 lead at the interval.

But Scotland, despite having prop Zander Fagerson sent off in the 50th minute, roared back to win the second half 22-0 and claim a morale-boosting 25-21 victory five weeks ahead of their World Cup opener.

“It was not their strongest team, a lot of their players will come back next week,” said Russell. “It will be a different team we face.

“It was tough to prepare as a lot of the (French) boys have not played before, especially against us in the Six Nations, so we focused mainly on ourselves this week.

“Next week against them we can look at their players that come back and look back to the game from the Six Nations (in February) and analyse how they play and we will go from there. Next week will be a very different French team we face.”

Despite the fact it was not against France’s strongest side, Russell feels Scotland’s relentless second-half performance – in which Darcy Graham, Pierre Schoeman and replacement Dave Cherry got the game-changing tries – will stand them in good stead ahead of the World Cup.

The Scots will spend this week at their tournament training base near Nice before travelling to Saint-Etienne on Thursday for their next warm-up match against the hosts.

“The first half we did some good things but gave away some soft penalties and turnovers and the skills weren’t there,” said Russell. “In the second half we got a try early on that got us back into the game and got the momentum for us.

“It was great to have had that second half and play the way we wanted to. It showed the rugby we can play.

“From last week it was a step forward and we go to France next week. It will be a very different French team we face but it will be a very good challenge for us heading towards the World Cup.”

Russell was captain in the absence of injured skipper Jamie Ritchie, who hopes to return in Saint-Etienne following a calf issue. The 30-year-old stand-off enjoyed leading his country for the first time.

“It was good fun,” he said. “As a 10 on the pitch you tend to talk a lot and chat with other leaders.

“In terms of speaking on the pitch and having leadership, it was similar to previous occasions.

“It was more the relationship with the referee and having those key decisions at certain times such as ‘do we go for the posts, or the corner?’ That was the main difference.

“At half time it was maybe not the most enjoyable but the second half it was good.”

Finn Russell will captain Scotland in this Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against France – less than 10 months after Gregor Townsend left the fly-half out of his initial squad for the autumn series.

The 30-year-old will lead the team in the absence of Jamie Ritchie, who misses out with a minor niggle. Scotland medical staff hope the regular skipper will be fit to return for the rematch with France in St Etienne the following Saturday.

Head coach Townsend has restored most of his senior players, making 13 changes to his starting XV, after a largely experimental side defeated Italy last weekend.

Darcy Graham and Matt Fagerson are the only two to retain their places from the win over the Azzurri, while hooker Ewan Ashman – with just seven caps to date – is the least-established player in the XV to face the World Cup hosts.

Ritchie and George Turner – who played against Italy – are the only notable absentees from the starting XV.

Versatile Edinburgh back Blair Kinghorn has been given a chance to establish himself as the first-choice number 15 following the recent retirement of Stuart Hogg.

Russell being handed the captaincy marks a significant turnaround in fortunes for a player whose international future looked in serious jeopardy just under a year ago after he was a surprise omission from the autumn series squad, with Townsend citing concerns about his form and consistency levels.

However, following an injury to Adam Hastings that left him short of dependable options at stand-off, Townsend held clear-the-air talks with Russell and recalled him for the third of the four autumn Tests at home to New Zealand.

The number 10 – who has moved to Bath from Racing 92 this summer – shone against the All Blacks and Argentina last November and continued to flourish in the Six Nations, rediscovering the faith of Townsend who has rewarded him with the honour of leading the team this weekend, just five weeks out from their opening World Cup match against South Africa in Marseille.

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