GREGOR TOWNSEND and Finn Russell are now in dialogue, but there is no prospect of the stand-off playing against England on Saturday.
A squad update was issued earlier today [Monday] which confirmed that Russell had not returned to training with the group as they begin the build-up to this weekend’s eagerly anticipated Calcutta Cup clash, having walked out of the camp following a fall-out with senior members of the squad in the team’s hotel bar just over two weeks ago.
Duncan Weir – who was called up as cover at stand-off following Russell’s departure but did not feature against Ireland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday – has been retained for at least one more week.
Winger Darcy Graham is still unavailable due to a knee ligament injury he picked up on the first day in camp, and there are no other changes to the initial training squad. Magnus Bradbury [who was ruled out during the week leading up to the Ireland game with a thigh strain] and Simon Berghan [initially named on the bench before succumbing to illness on the morning of the match] were both listed, so appear to be back into contention.
“Finn is not with us,” confirmed Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy. “I know Gregor has had some dialogue with him, but Gregor is after a lot of cohesion which you have seen with the boys who have come in.
“He won’t be involved at the minute. All I know is there has been some dialogue. I don’t know any more than that.”
Evolution not revolution
Tandy was speaking to the press for the first time since replacing Matt Taylor as defence coach ahead of the Six Nations, and you have to wonder what he, along with scrum guru Pieter de Villiers who was recruited at the same time, made of the situation when the team’s star player stormed out of their first night together in camp.
“I’ve been at the Ospreys and the Waratahs, and you think you’re the only ones with these issues but you’re not, this is everywhere,” he insisted. “For me, as an assistant, it’s a case of getting your head down. I’ve got enough to worry about with getting the defence right and working with the players. So, as an assistant, I’m there to support Gregor and the team and that’s my role.”
The Welshman says he was encouraged by the team’s performance in Dublin last weekend, but also recognises that putting his mark on the team is a process of evolution rather than revolution.
“It wouldn’t have been a smart move to rip up everything,” he explained. “There were [already] a lot of good principles in place and a lot of good defenders in the team. There have been a couple of tweaks in terms of how we want to defend but certainly not wholesale changes.
“We will make some more tweaks as we move along, but we’ve only had six or seven sessions. I am just trying to change a little bit at a time.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 27)
“You obviously want line-speed, [but] I’m not sure about a full-on blitzing defence,” he explained, when asked to discuss his defensive philosophy. “Line-speed means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. As long as everyone is on point and behind what you want to do then you have half a chance, and the boys have been excellent. They have responded to every subtle change that has been made.
“The energy in the group is very positive and they want to learn,” he continued. “They want to ask questions and they want to know how to improve. I’m very fortunate to be able to coach a group like this, they are very stimulated. They don’t just sit there and nod their heads, they ask questions.
“I thought they defended well in Dublin and there are improvements to make.”
Scotland are up against an England side who were humiliated during the first 55 minutes of their Six Nations opener in Paris on Sunday afternoon, during which time they conceded 24 unanswered points – so a backlash would seem to be inevitable, and those improvement Tandy envisages are going to have to kick-in pretty quickly.
“You need to match England physically because they’ll be out to dominate the gain-line,” he surmised. “England have some unbelievable backs. Everyone relies on go-forward so there will be a real battle at the weekend.”
“France were really good, England came back, so there’s a lot to take from the game,” he added. “You know what England are, you don’t get to a World Cup Final without being a fantastic team. It’s about making sure we’re prepared mentally and physically. We’re going to be right for Saturday.”
- Shaun Wane, who previously coached Wigan Warriors and has worked with the SRU as a part-time consultant since the summer of 2018, has now moved on to coach the England Rugby League team.