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Russell to lead Scotland against France in Rugby World Cup warm-up

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has praised Finn Russell’s leadership qualities after naming him as captain for Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against France — less than 10 months after he was left out of the squad.

The fly-half will lead the team at Murrayfield in the absence of Jamie Ritchie, who misses out with a minor calf strain.

Head coach Townsend has restored most of his senior players, making 13 changes to his starting XV, after a largely experimental side defeated Italy 25-13 at the weekend.

Russell’s international future appeared to be in serious jeopardy after he was a surprise omission from last year’s 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.

The number 10, who will play in the colours of English Premiership club Bath after the World Cup, shone against the All Blacks and Argentina in November and flourished in the Six Nations.

Asked what has changed for the 30-year-old to go from outsider to leader, Townsend said on Wednesday: “Finn has played really well since he got back into the squad.

“He has always been a leader for us in terms of attack. He is older, has more experience and an opportunity has opened up where he’s the right man to lead us this week.

“It’s the right time to give him that opportunity.”

Townsend believes Russell is in his prime.

“He’s hitting that sweet spot where, after playing the game for 10 years in that one position and playing against some of the best teams around, he has an understanding of where space might open up,” he said.

“If you’ve got that physical side right too, you can exploit those opportunities. That’s what he is doing. He’s really motivated about playing for Scotland and playing club rugby for the next few years.”

Scotland play a reverse fixture against World Cup hosts France in Saint-Etienne on August 12 before hosting Georgia on August 26 in their final warm-up match.

They open their World Cup campaign against defending champions South Africa in Marseille on September 10.