Finn Russell will go straight into the Scotland XV at stand-off for Sunday’s showdown with New Zealand at BT Murrayfield.
The Racing 92 playmaker was left out of the squad for the first two autumn Tests but, after being recalled this week following injury to Adam Hastings, the 30-year-old has got the nod to start ahead of Blair Kinghorn at number 10.
Russell has not appeared for the national team since the Six Nations defeat by Ireland in March, when he was dropped to the bench a week after going on an unauthorised night out following the team’s return to Edinburgh from their match away to Italy.
He was rested for the summer tour of South America, along with other senior players, but eyebrows were raised when he was again omitted from the initial squad for the autumn internationals.
Townsend cited Russell’s “form and consistency” levels for his decision although speculation persisted that – after the pair had a fallout in 2020 – there been another breakdown in relationship between head coach and talisman in the wake of the Six Nations protocol breach.
Injury to Hastings allied to Russell’s unquestionably good form for Racing in recent weeks has prompted Townsend to perform a U-turn over the fly-half and he will now be the centre of attention against the most high-profile team in world rugby on Sunday.
Kinghorn, who appeared to have started the autumn series as Gregor Townsend’s favoured choice for the position, is once again named on the bench after playing second fiddle to Hastings against Fiji last weekend.
In the other two changes to the team, Fraser Brown replaces the injured George Turner at hooker, while Sione Tuipulotu returns at number 12 in place of Cam Redpath, who will turn out for Bath this weekend.