FINN Russell will not be returning to the Scotland camp any time soon. That much was obvious even before yesterday’s statement from Gregor Townsend, which did little more than emphasise the gulf that separates the stand-off from the head coach.

Jonny Gray will not feature in the remaining three Six Nations matches either, the result of a hand injury sustained in Saturday’s 13-6 defeat by England. The Glasgow lock, like Russell, is one of our few world-class players and would normally be one of the first names on the team sheet. Townsend does not exactly have his troubles to seek.

That does not mean that the coach has absolutely no room for manoeuvre as he looks ahead to the game against Italy on Saturday week, but the situation does demand some creative thinking by him.

And “creative” is the operative word, because while Scotland have played passably well in some departments in their losses to England and Ireland, they have lacked the inventive spark which so often makes the difference between a narrow loss and a slender win.

Scotland had scored at least one try in 19 consecutive Six Nations matches before the Ireland game. As Opta, the tournament’s official statisticians, pointed out, that was their longest run in Championship history and the longest active run of any of the competing countries. They have now drawn a blank in their last two games.

As ever, there are some mitigating circumstances. For example, in a sense the gap between scoring and not scoring in Dublin was no more than a couple of inches - the distance between Stuart Hogg’s hand and the ball when he thought he was touching down. And at least the defence has been pretty parsimonious, conceding just the one try against both Ireland and England. 

But you don’t go into any tournament planning to lose narrowly. And in both of their opening games, Scotland never really looked like doing anything else.

Although they competed well enough in the physical battle in those matches, they are not equipped to overpower any of their tournament opponents by sheer brute force. Instead, they need subtlety, unpredictability, perhaps even a touch of inspired madness. In short, the sort of qualities that Russell brings to games, and that Townsend had himself as a player.

You can’t coach spontaneity, but you can foster an environment in which players are encouraged to think for themselves and have a go. Perhaps, in their eagerness to become tougher to beat after their humiliating experience at the World Cup, Scotland’s coaching team have put too much emphasis on defensive solidity at the expense of creative chaos.

Granted, it is a very difficult balance to get right. Test matches are often balanced on a knife edge, and one harebrained moment can literally give the game away. 

Even so, a greater element of adventurousness will surely be required in Rome. A third consecutive narrow, tryless defeat does not bear thinking about.