Finn Russell says Scotland are now a genuine force in world rugby despite Six Nations' title hopes being wiped out

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The Scottish fly-half was bullish about his side's progress.

Finn Russell believes Scotland can already claim to be a genuine force despite their poor away record as they look to ditch their tag as rugby’s nearly men.

Gregor Townsend‘s team head to Rome for their final Six Nations match on Saturday after their slim title hopes were wiped out by a 28-8 defeat at the hands of Ireland in Dublin.

The team have not won a championship clash away from home for two years but Glasgow fly-half Russell says Scotland are heading in the right direction following their emphatic victory over Australia in November and their first win against England in a decade.

If they beat Italy in Rome, Scotland will record three wins out of five matches for the second year running, a feat last achieved back in 1996 which, for Russell, would be proof that they are no longer also-rans.

“In my first Six Nations I don’t think we won a game and that was four years ago,” said the 25-year-old, who joins Racing 92 this summer.

Finn believes Scotland have made rapid strides under Conor O'Shea.

Finn believes Scotland have made rapid strides under Conor O’Shea.

“We are building. The ‘nearly men’ tag isn’t the kind of name we want to have and we are definitely working to change that.

“Against Ireland we worked very hard to put the second-best team in the world under a lot of pressure, we put New Zealand under pressure in the autumn, so it shows that on our day we can be there against the best.”

He added: “It has been a decent competition for us, although there are a lot of things we can look back on and we could have worked on in the Wales and Ireland games and it could have potentially have been different. It has been a successful competition for us.”

Italy are mired in another tortuous campaign that has seen them ship 23 tries and record four straight defeats.

But Russell said results do not give a true reflection of their growth under Conor O’Shea.

“They have a lot of danger in attack, a lot of flair, in attack and defence they are solid so we need to stick to our game plan, what we know, and hopefully that will take care of itself,” he said.

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt plays down England counterpart Eddie Jones' comments of his side ahead of Saturday's Grand Slam showdown

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The Ireland coach has chosen to ignore Jones' negative comments.

Joe Schmidt has sought to defuse tensions over Eddie Jones branding his team the “scummy Irish” ahead of Saturday’s Grand Slam showdown with England at Twickenham.

Jones apologised on Wednesday after footage emerged of him referring to Joe Schmidt’s team as the “scummy Irish” and Wales as a “little s*** place”.

Ireland will chase just a third-ever 6 Nations clean sweep with victory over England in London on Saturday – but head coach Schmidt insisted his players will not be distracted by the fuss.

“I’m not exactly sure what they were,” said Schmidt, when asked about Jones comments in the Fuso video that had caused some offence.

“They are not directly relevant to us to be honest.

“Those words don’t impact on how we play or how his team plays and that’s our focus.”

A Youtube video surfaced on Wednesday of Jones delivering a talk on leadership for Fuso, the Japanese parent company of England sponsors Mitsubishi.

Jones insisted he was “very sorry” in a statement on Wednesday evening, shortly after the video came to light.

And a spokesman has confirmed that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) had received a phone call and apology from their English counterparts.

Asked if Jones’ comments could hinder Ireland’s preparation for their tilt at a Grand Slam to add to the triumphs of 1948 and 2009, Schmidt said: “I don’t think so to be honest.

“I know it’s probably at the stage of being boring, which we don’t want to be described as, but the bubble we have here allows us to focus on the task in hand.”

Jones had issued an apology on Wednesday for his statements.

Jones had issued an apology on Wednesday for his statements.

Iain Henderson has dislodged Devin Toner to start Saturday’s Grand Slam decider. Peter O’Mahony, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy have been passed fit for Ireland’s all-out assault on just a third-ever NatWest 6 Nations clean sweep.

British and Irish Lions lock Henderson’s selection represents the sole change from Ireland’s 28-8 win over Scotland, that sealed their third Six Nations title in five years.

Flanker O’Mahony and full-back Kearney sat out training on Tuesday, but have since proved their fitness to start the St Patrick’s Day clash. Prop Healy appeared unsteady on his feet against Scotland, but Ireland insisted he suffered a shoulder “stinger”, not a head injury.

Ireland boss Schmidt has also insisted he remains unfazed by assistant referee Marius Van der Westhuizen acting as an official during England’s training session on Tuesday.

Schmidt admitted Ireland were taken aback by the move, but still moved to back Van der Westhuizen’s ability to officiate with full neutrality on Saturday.

“That is a bit of a surprise,” said Schmidt, of Van der Westhuizen helping out at England training this week.

“I’m sure in retrospect people are probably thinking it’s not the best thing to do.

“I know Marius and I would have no hesitation in standing by his integrity.

“I don’t think it will affect his decision making and we’ll stand by him as an official on Saturday.”

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Eddie Jones rings in the changes by dropping Danny Care and George Ford for England's Six Nations clash against Ireland

David Cooper 15/03/2018
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Danny Care has been dropped for the Ireland game

England coach Eddie Jones has dropped half-backs Danny Care and George Ford for Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Ireland at Twickenham.

Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth starts in place of Care and will resume his club partnership with Owen Farrell, normally a centre for England but now at fly-half instead of childhood friend Ford.

These were just two of the most eye-catching of several changes made by Jones following England’s 22-16 loss to France in Paris last weekend – a defeat that ended their hopes of a third successive Six Nations title under the Australian coach.

Ben Te’o filled the inside centre position vacated by Farrell and forms a midfield duo with Jonathan Joseph after both men had been competing for the same place for most of this tournament.

Meanwhile wing Elliot Daly was passed fit following a foot problem.

Up front, fit-again hooker Dylan Hartley returns as captain after missing the defeat in Paris.

He was one of five changes to England’s pack announced Thursday, with Jones reshaping the back-row following tournament-ending injuries to Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes.

Their places were taken by Sam Simmonds and James Haskell, while prop Kyle Sinckler started in place of Dan Cole.

England are bidding to avoid losing three Tests in a row for the first time under Jones against an Ireland side bidding to win a Grand Slam.

England team:
Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’O, Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Sam Simmonds, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw; George Kruis, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Dylan Hartley (capt), Mako Vunipola

Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Don Armand), Danny Care George Ford, Mike Brown

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