The Glasgow Warriors stand-off was yellow carded by New Zealand referee Glen Jackson for taking out Dan Biggar in the air during in the first half of Scotland’s 26-23 defeat to Wales on 15 February, contrary to law 10.4(i), but the 22-year-old was later cited and banned by a Six Nations disciplinary committee, which determined that the offence warranted a red card.
“We are disappointed by the outcome of today’s discipline committee meeting, and subsequent suspension of stand-off Finn Russell,” said a Scottish Rugby Union spokesman following the initial verdict last week.
Vern Cotter, the Scotland head coach, has had to wait to find out whether his current first-choice outside-half would be available after the Scottish Rugby Union decided to appeal the ban.
The Six Nations Appeal Committee hearing was chaired by Christopher Quilan QC (England) in London on Wednesday afternoon, with Jean-Noel Couraud (France) and Mike Rafter (England) also on the panel.
After considering submissions on behalf of the player and on behalf of the Six Nations Disciplinary Officer, the appeal committee dismissed the appeal with the original two-week ban upheld, ruling Russell out of competition until 2 March.
With Russell now unavailable, Cotter has to switch to plan B as the woeful Italians head to BT Murrayfield for the traditional wooden spoon decider after both countries lost their opening two matches of this year’s championship.
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, who has started at scrum-half in their defeats to France and Wales, has already ruled himself out of contention to start in the 10 jersey, despite his greater experience at international level.
That means Scotland will have to look at more inexperienced options to fill Russell’s boots with Wasps’ Ruaridh Jackson out with a leg injury and Glasgow Warriors’ Duncan Weir ruled out of the championship with a torn bicep.
Edinburgh’s Tom Heathcote has recently returned from injury, and last started for Scotland in a 30-29 win over Italy in a quadrangular series in South Africa during the summer of 2013, but looked woefully out of sorts at times in the Gunners’ 20-17 defeat to Ulster last Friday.
The remaining options are to draft in Edinburgh’s versatile back Greig Tonks, who was an unused replacement against Wales and won his only cap against Samoa in June 2013, or draft in Peter Horne, who steered Glasgow Warriors to impressive wins over Zebre and the Ospreys in recent weeks and has just three senior Scotland starts to his name, all at inside centre.
Cotter’s final option would be to switch Warriors full-back Stuart Hogg to stand-off, as he did while Russell was serving his time on the sidelines, but he has limited experience in the role despite his obvious talents.
Cotter names his Scotland team to face Italy on Thursday afternoon.
Law 10.4(i): Tackling the jumper in the air. A player must not tackle nor tap, push or pull the foot or feet of an opponent jumping for the ball in a lineout or in open play.
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news