Gareth Thomas maintains ‘maverick’ Finn Russell simply isn’t worth the risk.
The fly-half’s controversial omission continues to dominate the build-up to Scotland’s four-match Autumn international campaign, starting against Australia at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Wales legend Thomas, no shrinking violet himself on or off the field, believes boss Gregor Townsend was right to freeze the 30-year-old out of his squad.
“He’s probably Scotland’s greatest-ever individual player,” said Thomas.
“But no individual is bigger than the team.
“If an individual doesn’t contribute to the team, that could end up being your downfall. When you have a great player like Finn, a maverick, there’s also the prospect of an individual failure.
“When he tries things that come off, everybody cheers it. But when they don’t come off, who’s cleaning up after him all the time?”
Thomas captained Wales to the 2005 Grand Slam and managed to get the best out of Gavin Henson, one of the modern game’s truly mercurial talents.
He said: “I played with brilliant individual players and we’d try to instil the team ethic into them. If they don’t get it, there’s no place for them.
“I’d rather be a part of a squad that were all average but playing to the same plan and playing for each other, rather than brilliant individuals who had no care for other people.
“You have to respect Gregor’s decision not to take the risk.”
Thomas also leapt to the defence of Russell’s replacements, with Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson well capable of taking the ten jersey for Townsend this autumn.
“We need to realise these aren’t rubbish players,” he said. “They’re not bad, they’re not being picked just because he didn’t want to take the risk of Finn.
“They have different attributes, different leadership qualities that he sees as more relevant to where Scotland are as a team now.”
Russell shone in the club colours of Racing 92 as they beat Montpellier, a statement performance that saw him named in the Top 14 Team of the Week.
In the aftermath Russell expressed the view that international omission could help him in the long run, a reaction that Thomas was buoyed by.
He said: “The sign of any good player is longevity in their career. No player goes through a long career without being dropped, having injuries or setbacks and having to adapt.
“It’s a sign of maturity from Finn, it’s a sign of how much he wants to get back in. He’s not rebelling against it, he’s not saying he’s better than it or Scotland aren’t good enough for him.
“It shows where he’s at. He’s not sulking and he wants to come back as a better individual and a better team player.”
Thomas was in Glasgow this week as the face of the Tackle HIV awareness campaign, aiming to tackle stigma and misunderstanding of HIV.
The visit was part of the campaign’s national Myth Bus Tour, that saw the vehicle parked outside the SEC, hosting a leading international congress on HIV.
Thomas said: “We need to go to uncomfortable places and have uncomfortable conversations.
“Science means that HIV is no longer a death sentence but the language that people use and the public education isn’t there yet, that’s what we need to change.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv