JUST when we were thinking it couldn’t get any worse for Scotland’s beleaguered rugby team, news broke yesterday morning that talismanic playmaker Finn Russell – one of the few genuine world-class players in the squad – had left the Six Nations training camp following what appears to be a complete breakdown in his relationship with head coach Gregor Townsend.

This was already looking like a pivotal championship for Townsend after the disappointment of last Autumn’s World Cup flop seriously undermined his reputation as the coach with the golden touch. Now it is absolutely make-or-break. And he is starting on the back foot having seemingly allowed his relationship with the team’s most creative player to deteriorate to a point where there are now serious doubts the situation is salvageable.

Adam Hastings will inherit the No.10 jersey, and he is not a bad replacement – but he is four years younger and 33 caps less experienced. Coming hot on the heels of the retirement of senior players Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour, and the non-selection for this championship of Peter Horne and Ryan Wilson, there was already a dearth of rugby miles on the clock before this most recent withdrawal.

Hastings is a talented and exciting player in his own right - not too different from Russell in that regard - but the older man is a maestro at his best, and Hastings does not have quite the same ability to dominate a game.

There has been no squad update from the Scotland camp, but with Hastings now the only out-and-out stand-off left in the group named by Townsend last week, it may become necessary to recall either Horne (who was left out of the initial squad due to a lack of game time with Glasgow) or maybe even Duncan Weir (who has made big waves for Worcester Warriors but who has not been capped since before Townsend took over the Scotland job).

Laidlaw would have been an option at 10 had he not retired, while James Lang of Harlequins is out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. Of the players in the squad at the moment, Rory Hutchinson, Blair Kinghorn and new skipper Stuart Hogg have all experience in the pro game of playing stand-off - but not very much and all are far more effective in other positions.

All of a sudden, the underlying lack of strength in depth in the Scottish game is exposed. International rugby is a brutally physical environment and at times it feels like the odds are stacked against a player making it through a championship without picking up an injury at some point – so, as it stands, if Hastings gets hurt then Scotland are in big trouble.

In this light, we can understand why sources close to the Scotland camp were keen to stress that the door is open for some sort of rapprochement.

A wider concern relates to what this episode will do to the already battered morale of a squad desperate to bounce back from their World Cup experience. At the very least, it is an unwelcome distraction – in reality, the impact of losing their gallus spearhead is bound to shake their already fragile confidence.

Scotland kick off the Six Nations a week on Saturday with a daunting trip to Dublin to take on Ireland, they then face England at home seven days later – which is probably the toughest start they could have been handed – and it is desperately sad that one of the players we could have relied upon to take it to the opposition will be sitting in Paris watching it on the box.