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Gregor Townsend says Finn Russell remains out of his current plans ahead of Italy vs Scotland

"We're obviously focused on the 23 going out this weekend. He's not in that, so I'd prefer to focus on that 23."

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend  in training ahead of their Six Nations game with Italy in Rome
Image: Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made three changes for Saturday's Six Nations game with Italy

Gregor Townsend has confirmed there have been no fresh talks with Finn Russell as their Scotland stand off continues.

Russell has missed their opening two matches of the Six Nations and will again be absent for Saturday's game with Italy in Rome.

The row was initially sparked by allegations of a late-night drinking session which breached team rules but has since developed into a debate over the Racing 92 star's relationship with his head coach and his place in the team's decision-making structure.

Russell subsequently cast his international future into major doubt the day after the Scots' 16-9 defeat to England at Murrayfield when he gave an interview with the Sunday Times detailing the extent of the breakdown of his partnership with his former Glasgow boss, insisting: "There's no relationship, we don't work at all together."

Townsend responded the following day with a number of statements and interviews in which he made it clear Russell would only be welcomed back if the fly-half agreed to sign up to the team's new standards of behaviour.

Now Townsend says there have been no further developments and the Scotland head coach declined to discuss the impasse further as he insisted his focus is on preparing the players he does have available for the Italy clash.

Asked if he had spoken with Russell since he made his public response to the Sunday Times, Townsend said: "Since we spoke to you, probably not, no.

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"We're obviously focused on the 23 going out this weekend. He's not in that so I'd prefer to focus on that 23."

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend says fly-half Finn Russell could return to the squad in the future if he adheres to the team's standards and values. (Credit: Scottish Rugby TV)

While Russell remains in Paris, Edinburgh forwards Stuart McInally and Ben Toolis and Gloucester centre Chris Harris come back into the starting XV for this weekend's game with the Azzurri at the Stadio Olimpico.

Hooker McInally swaps places with Glasgow's Fraser Brown, who moves to the bench, while second-row Toolis comes in for the injured Jonny Gray.

Harris has been selected ahead of Huw Jones, who drops out of the 23-man squad, with Sale Sharks' wing Byron McGuigan taking Harris' place on the bench.

Speaking about the changes, Townsend said: "We believe Chris and Stuart deserve this opportunity. They were very close to the starting XV when we entered this campaign. We think this is the right time for them to come in.

"Chris has been excellent for Gloucester this season and has continued to make improvements since the summer. He works very hard on both sides of the ball, which will be important this week.

Scotland change three for Italy
Scotland change three for Italy

Stuart McInally, Ben Toolis and Chris Harris come into the Scotland starting line-up for their Six Nations trip to Italy.

"Stuart has shown over the past few weeks he's back to full fitness and is raring to go and Ben gets an opportunity to start following Jonny's injury against England.

"Second-row is a position [where] we have a lot of competition with a number of very good players available for selection.

"We're looking forward to seeing how he combines again with Scott [Cummings] after a successful outing together against Russia in the World Cup."

Neither side has won a match in this season's Six Nations, with Scotland losing to Ireland and England, while Italy suffered away defeats to Wales and France, and Townsend admits they will face a tough test to get off the mark in the Italian capital.

"Italy are always a very tough opponent, especially in Rome, where we know they'll look to play with a huge amount of energy," Townsend added.

"It's a different Italy team to the one we've played in the past. In their opening two games of the championship, they have played with real ambition and width.

"They've also selected athletic ball-players who suit this strategy and are comfortable playing at a high tempo.

"We are well aware of the threats throughout their team and how their attacking game can cause problems for any defence."

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