NORMALLY, if a head coach loses one of his key players, he may try to gloss over the loss. When Gregor Townsend lost his protege Finn Russell over the weekend, however, it was clearly a moment of celebration, not gloom.

Even though Townsend reckoned Russell had played his best game for Scotland, producing a try and three conversions in beating Australia, the head coach is a firm believer in the British and Irish Lions, and the message that Russell had got the call from New Zealand along with Allan Dell had his full support.

Not just with the coaches either. After scoring one of the tries and helping create another, Duncan Taylor, who started at centre but ended on the wing, is full of confidence his team-mate can make an impact.

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If Owen Farrell is fit, he will probably start at fly-half against the All Blacks, but as far as Taylor is concerned, having played alongside both – with Russell for Scotland and Farrell at Saracens – there is nothing to choose between them.

“They are both unbelievably talented players,” Taylor said. “In my opinion, they have a lot of similarities as fly-halves. They are two of the best players in the world.”

Townsend reckons that part of the reason Russell continues to blossom is that he is being handed more and more leadership roles in the team – he was one of the vice-captains for the game on Saturday – and there is more to come.

“It is the best I’ve seen him play, and I’ve seen him play pretty well over the past few years,” the head coach said. “It was an all-round game. Some of his kicks to the corner were great, he had two brilliant 22 drop-outs and had some great kicks to the touchlines.

“Defensively he was outstanding. Some of the front-on tackles, one-on-one against big men, were outstanding.

“In attack he gave the team confidence. Sometimes mistakes will happen, and if he gave his pass to John Barclay a millisecond earlier we could have had another try. He is creating things. It was a performance of skill, but character as well.

“There’s more to come from him. In that position you learn so much from the decisions you make. There will be a few things he wants to improve on, and that’s great. All the players put their bodies on the line – he certainly did.

“We want to give players confidence, show that you believe in them and their decisions,” Townsend explained. “Finn is definitely different in the Scotland environment to how he is at Glasgow. He’s a leader on the pitch, but he is definitely talking more in the Scotland setting.”

“The vice-captaincy was just an extension of what he was already doing as the leader of our attack. He had some great moments last week [against Italy], but against Australia he was excellent.”

All that said, it was anything but a one-man show as Scotland claimed their third win in Australia, withstanding a late flurry of attacks, despite missing almost an entire back division and some first-choice forwards. The coaches had to dig deep – there was an average of just 13 caps each across the back division – but still managed to find the winning formula.

Scotland took a comfortable early lead as Greig Tonks slotted his first Test points with a long-range penalty and Taylor took advantage of a Wallabies blunder to grab the opening try, but that disappeared as Australia hit back through two tries from Israel Folau, both taking advantage of space created by driving mauls. In between, Russell had broken from his own 22 to set up a Scottish attack and had then taken full advantage of the pressure, scoring Scotland’s second try after charging down Will Genia.

The Wallabies scrum-half made some amends for a couple of blunders with the go-ahead try for the Wallabies, but the lead lasted only six minutes as a long, patient build-up ended with an explosion of pace from Lee Jones, with Taylor acting as link man and Hamish Watson finishing. Scotland never again lost the lead, though it was nerve wracking stuff as their defence was tested almost – but not quite – to destruction in the closing stages.

“It shows the depth we have,” Townsend added. “The players took opportunities. They have worked hard in training, got their reward by being picked to start, and then went out and played 100 percent.”

Besides the departure of Russell and Dell, Alex Dunbar and Magnus Bradbury have both been released from the final week of the tour. Lewis Carmichael, who is currently based in Australia with Western Force but has been training with the Scotland squad, has also not travelled with the squad for their final Summer Tour match versus Fiji.

The match takes place this Saturday at the ANZ Stadium in Suva, the capital of the South Pacific Island nation. Scotland have an impressive record against the Fijians, including a 37-25 victory on the island – the last time the sides faced one another.

Townsend’s men will be aiming to make it a hat-trick of victories after the win over Australia, which followed a satisfying five-try victory over an experimental Italian side the previous Saturday in Singapore.

Looking ahead, Scotland’s Autumn Test matches will see them face a trio of Southern Hemisphere sides at BT Murrayfield Stadium.

First up is Samoa on November 11, Townsend’s first home match as Scotland’s head coach, before facing reigning world champions New Zealand the following week. Australia will be the opponents for the final of the three matches on November 25.