Gregor Townsend responds to Finn Russell interview that suggests Scotland recall is not in the pipeline
Exiled fly-half unlikely to be recalled for the third Six Nations match against Italy as head coach says he must ‘accept and adhere to the standards currently being lived by the group’
Gregor Townsend has confirmed that Finn Russell will not be recalled to the Scotland squad until he “accepts and adheres to the standards currently being lived by the group” following his revealing interview at the weekend.
Exiled fly-half Russell told the Sunday Times that he has no relationship with current Scotland coach Townsend – who was also responsible for bringing him through at Glasgow Warriors – in response to being sent home from their pre-Six Nations training camp.
Russell has not featured in either defeat against Ireland or England, with the 27-year-old instead playing for French club side Racing 92 during the opening fortnight of the championship, and added that “it’s not really possible” to be a part of the national set-up that is currently being guided by Townsend.
The Scottish Rugby Union issued a lengthy statement from Townsend on Monday in response to Russell’s comments in a continuation that has significantly overshadowed their poor Six Nations campaign so far.
Townsend went into great detail regarding the team culture that is currently being implemented not just by him but by the squad’s leadership team, which is fronted by recently-appointed captain Stuart Hogg – a close friend of Russell’s. The divide between Russell and Townsend has been brewing for quite some time after the pair well involved in an apparent argument at half-time during the 38-38 draw with England last March, and emotions boiled over last month when Russell went against the leadership group’s decision to limit players to two pints on their first night in camp on 20 January, before failing to turn up to a team meeting the following day.
"To play for Scotland takes total commitment,” said Townsend. “A lot of people make great sacrifices for the opportunity to represent 150 years of history and be among a special group of people who have had the honour of representing their nation.
"A lot of times, everything is not always how you’d like it to be. You might not agree with everything that is there, maybe because it’s a different coach than the one you have at club level or a different way of preparing or playing. What is important is that you commit to what has been agreed and put the best interests of the team first.
"In the Six Nations and this season we are playing teams in the top five or six in the world and the effort, planning and standards that go into preparing people physically and mentally are really important, as are the bonds that bring people together and the trust that must be created within the group.
"The door will be open to any player with the required level of ability – if they commit to being a trusted member of the team. It’s been made clear that Finn could be a part of that future. However, he stated at the weekend that everything else has to change for him to come back, rather than accept and adhere to the standards currently being lived by the group.
"I hope this situation can be resolved but our focus is on working with the squad and building on the positive work that’s gone in from the players for our first two games."
The relationship between the two appears to be completely broken for the time-being, even though Townsend paid testament to Russell’s talents on the rugby field that he first saw in the Glasgow academy. However, a meeting between the two at the start of the international window evidently did not have the positive impact that the former Scotland and Lions fly-half had hoped for.
"Finn left camp on the Sunday night because of a disagreement over alcohol with fellow players and chose to miss the following day’s (Monday) training and meetings,” Townsend added. “I arranged to meet with him that evening. It was a really positive meeting where we talked openly about life, rugby and what it means to play for Scotland.
"I left that meeting, after almost three hours, really optimistic that Finn would play a major part in our environment and be a committed team member. Unfortunately, things have not unfolded as well as we would have hoped.”
Scotland suffered a fresh blow on Monday with the news that lock Jonny Gray has been ruled out of the remainder of the Six Nations championship after suffering a hand injury in the defeat against England.
The 57-cap forward played the entire 80 minutes in Saturday’s 13-6 defeat by Eddie Jones’s side as Scotland lost their grip on the Calcutta Cup, with their title hopes effectively ended as a result. Ben Toolis appears most likely to step up and fill the void left by Gray, who is currently the second-most capped squad member behind captain Hogg.
France meanwhile have confirmed that wing Vincent Rattez will also miss their remaining Six Nations games after suffering a broken fibula late in the victory over Italy on Sunday.