SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend has insisted that the Finn Russell saga, which has dominated the team’s build-up to the Six Nations, has not adversely affected the preparations of his squad.

Scotland face one of the most difficult openers to the tournament possible, with a visit to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.

And with all the headlines being dominated over the past week with the news that Russell enjoyed a late-night drinking session at the team hotel before failing to turn up for training the following day and then after a meeting with Townsend, chose to return to his club side in France rather than take up the head coach’s offer to remain with the squad, it would be understandable if this whole episode had proved to be something of a distraction for Townsend and his players.

But, insisted the head coach, their preparations have been going well, and with the squad in Spain this week ahead of their trip to Dublin, things are looking in good shape.

And rather than the Russell furore putting a downer on anything, it is the knee injury to Darcy Graham, ruling him out of this weekend’s game, that Townsend is particularly disappointed by.

“We’ve had a really good week from a coaching and playing point of view,” he said.

“Although we had a disappointing start to the week with Darcy. That was a real blow, to see a young lad who will do anything to play for his country visibly upset with the news that he’d miss the first game, that was tough for players to see, and for a coach to see.

“We wish Darcy all the best in the next few weeks with his rehab because he was in outstanding form. Apart from that injury the players have welcome the new coaches, we got through a lot last week.”

The Irish handed out a real thumping to the Scots at the World Cup last year, claiming a 27-3 victory in Japan and while there is no doubt the Scots will have to produce their very on Saturday if they are to narrow the scoreline, or even reverse it, Townsend is happy with the mood in the squad.

A number of new backroom personnel, including defence coach Steve Tandy, who replaced the long-serving Matt Taylor, have brought some fresh ideas to the squad and Townsend is quick to point out that things feel very different this tournament compared to the feeling in the camp in Japan last year, which he is hoping will make all the difference in the coming weeks.

“There’s been coaching meetings, there’s been players who weren’t at the World Cup or just on the fringes at the World Cup that are now paying really well and training really well and putting their hands up for selection.

“So it does feel very different,” he said.

“We’ve had three experienced players retire, so it’s good to freshen things up.

“Players have come in with energy, players who are young and confident and desperate to play for Scotland. And they also have the quality and the edge around their game that you know they’ll do well at test level.”

Townsend has already brought in a player to boost his squad, with Worcester Warriors fly-half Duncan Weir being called-up following Russell’s departure and Graham’s injury.

Weir was first capped in 2014 but has been out of the international fold for a number of seasons. However, Townsend revealed the 27-year-old is thrilled to be back in the Scotland camp

“He’s trained well,” Townsend said of Weir.

“He’s loving being back. Duncan is a passionate Scot who loves playing for Scotland, is well-liked by all the group and well-liked by the coaches so we’ve been watching him closely the last couple of years with Worcester and he’s been a really consistent performer. So he’s ready to join the group.”

In the coming days and weeks, perhaps the greatest pressure will be on Adam Hastings, who is almost certain to be asked to fill Russell’s boots for as long as the Racing 92 fly-half is absent. But Townsend is confident the Glasgow Warriors player is up to the task.

“Adam’s been outstanding over the last few weeks,” said the head coach.

“I thought his game against Exeter was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a stand-off in the last year or two.

“He’s a much improved player from this time a year ago. As a 10 you’ve so many decisions to make during a game and it’s great to see how well he’s played this year.

“Adam will be more than ready to start for Scotland in a Six Nations.”