The Glasgow Warriors outside-half has not played since he was banned for two weeks by an RBS 6 Nations Disciplinary Committee for taking out Dan Biggar in the air during Scotland’s 26-23 defeat to Wales in February.
But Dark Blues head coach Vern Cotter has kept faith by bringing back the 22-year-old at the first opportunity, with Russell’s Warriors team-mate Peter Horne axed after deputising in the 22-19 defeat to Italy at BT Murrayfield 13 days ago.
The two other changes in the backline see Dougie Fife come on to the right wing after his try-scoring cameo off the bench in the opening match against France and Matt Scott replacing Alex Dunbar in the midfield.
Fife, the Edinburgh Rugby winger, comes in for injured Warriors veteran Sean Lamont, who was ruled out of the tournament after suffering a knee injury in the Warriors 26-5 win over Zebre in the Guinness PRO12 last week, while Warriors winger Sean Maitland is not yet ready to return from a shoulder problem, despite being called to the training squad by Cotter earlier in the week.
It’s been tough on Finn to sit out, and it’s great to have him back. He’s slotted straight back in to the structure we’re looking for.
Vern Cotter on Finn Russell’s return to the Scotland XV
With Dunbar picking up a knee injury in training this morning, it’s a straight swap in the midfield with Edinburgh centre Scott, who scored a brace of tries for the Gunners against Benetton Treviso in the PRO12 last week, making his first Scotland start in 2015.
Up front, veteran Saracens lock Jim Hamilton returns to the Scotland engine room to partner Glasgow Warriors youngster Jonny Gray.
Edinburgh number eight David Denton returns to the international scene after an injury-hit start to the year, replacing Johnnie Beattie, who drops to the bench along with lock Tim Swinson.
Cotter has opted for a rare 6:2 split on the bench with Glasgow Warriors’ versatile back-row forward Adam Ashe drafted in, which leaves just versatile Edinburgh duo Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Greig Tonks covering the entire back division.
“Jim comes in and will bring his physicality and understanding of English rugby to our forward pack,” Cotter said.
“It’s good to have Dave Denton back as he provides us with strong ball-carrying and strong defence.
“He’s also a very good lineout forward, and will give us a bit more physical density against a big forward pack.
“It’s been tough on Finn to sit out, and it’s great to have him back. He’s slotted straight back in to the structure we’re looking for.
“Finally, Dougie came on and played well against France and has had a couple of games with his club with a few work-ons.
“We’re looking for him to bring his enthusiasm, energy and high work-rate, particularly in kick-chase and receipt.”
Despite falling to three defeats from their opening three RBS 6 Nations matches, Kiwi head coach Cotter has shown confidence in his core group of players for the match against Stuart Lancaster’s side, who are determined to bounce back from a disappointing 19-9 defeat to Ireland 11 days ago.
It will be played away from home at a very intense level, and will allow us to assess further our ability to operate away from home in a hostile environment.
Vern Cotter on the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham
The Red Rose can keep their slim title hopes alive with a win over Scotland, and the history does not make great reading for Cotter and his charges, who last defeated England at BT Murrayfield in 2008.
England have not lost at home in the RBS 6 Nations since Wales were victorious in their Grand Slam-winning run in 2012, while Scotland’s only win at Twickenham since 1971 came in 1983 – the year before they went on to win a Five Nations Grand Slam – although they did secure a 12-12 draw in 1989.
But rather than dwell on history, Cotter has focused his players’ attention on the present and future, and how his side can improve after falling to narrow defeats to France, Wales, and Italy so far in this year’s competition.
“This is a very important game,” Cotter added.
“It will be played away from home at a very intense level, and will allow us to assess further our ability to operate away from home in a hostile environment.
“Our focus, however, has been on ourselves and how we can perform better, by identifying the areas that we can control – like improving our skill-sets and reinforcing our cohesion – to withstand the difficult times, and also apply some pressure.”
England: Mike Brown (Harlequins); Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs); George Ford (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), David Attwood (Bath Rugby), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain), Billy Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints); Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby).
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby), Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors); Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby, captain); Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby).
Replacements: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (London Irish), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Castres), Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors); Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby).
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
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