The door remains open for Finn Russell to make Six Nations return

Stand-off has returned to Paris to play club rugby for Racing 92 but remains hopeful of playing for Scotland at some point in the next two months

Finn Russell's Scotland future hangs in the balance. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Finn Russell's Scotland future hangs in the balance. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

FINN RUSSELL remains hopeful of playing for Scotland at some point during this Six Nations campaign, despite his relationship with Gregor Townsend appearing to have hit rock bottom following a Sunday evening drinking session in the team’s hotel bar, which led to the stand-off being told he will not be involved in next Saturday’s championship opener against Ireland. It is understood that Townsend is also keen to find a common ground to rescue the relationship.

Details remain hazy but it appears that the 27-year-old playmaker, who had played for Racing 92 versus Saracens earlier that day, refused to stop drinking despite being urged to do so by Scotland squad players and staff, and there may have been words exchanged with Townsend.

Russell did not stay in the hotel that night and instead returned home to his parents’ house near Stirling at 10pm [note: in an interview four days after this article was published, Townsend stated that the player had left the hotel at around 11.45pm]. He did not attend training on Monday morning but a meeting was arranged with Townsend that evening, and he also met up with new captain Stuart Hogg. Russell was apparently told by Townsend that the situation was resolvable, although it was made clear that there would have to be consequences which would include being excluded from camp for the time being and being left out of the team’s Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin a week on Saturday.


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Finn Russell interview from January 2019


Townsend told Russell that he would phone on Tuesday morning to tell him when he could come back into camp, but there was no call until Tuesday evening, and at that point still no clarification on when he could rejoin the group. On Wednesday morning, Russell was told by Townsend that he was free to return to Paris to start preparing for Racing 92’s match against Castres on Saturday if that was his preference, and he flew out of Scotland at 6am on Thursday morning. Townsend has also contacted Racing 92 directly about the situation.

A statement issued by the SRU yesterday lunchtime stated: “Stand-off Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp in Edinburgh. He has returned to his club.”

It is worth noting that there is not a defined set of team protocols for the Six Nations (rather a loose understanding of expected levels of behaviour) and there has been no formal disciplinary process brought against Russell.

The absence of Russell from the team to play Ireland – and from the rest of the tournament if it comes to that – represents a major blow. He may have a tendency to blow hot and cold, but when he hits his groove he is one of the most inventive, effective and exhilarating attacking players in world rugby.

He is a gregarious and popular member of the Scotland squad, and with 49 caps to his name he has a level of experience which is in short supply in the national team backline at the moment after the recent retirements of Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour, and the non-selection for this championship of Peter Horne.

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Russell exudes a jack-the-lad personality, and a viral video clip of him, Laidlaw and a handful of other members of the national squad singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ following the team’s famous Calcutta Cup victory in 2018 highlights that he is not averse to a post-match tipple – but he also takes his rugby far more seriously than he often lets on, and is fiercely passionate about playing for Scotland, so it seems there is more to this story than one individual blowing off a bit too much steam following a big match.

Russell has a complicated relationship with the Scottish Rugby Union. In 2018, his father, Keith, won an unfair dismissal case against the organisation, after which he launched a scathing broadside at the management culture at Murrayfield. The player has, in the past, made no secret his disdain for certain senior figures at the top of the organisation.

Rumours have circulated for some time that Russell’s relationship with Townsend is not great. As a player, Townsend was cut from the same cloth as Russell in terms of being a highly talented free-spirit determined to play the game with wit and ambition, but his coaching style is a bit more regimented and Russell gave an indication of strain when discussing the team’s remarkable 2019 Calcutta Cup comeback in a TV interview straight after the game.

“I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time],” he told the reporter. “I said to him: ‘You’re telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they’re just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back’. Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby.”

The SRU were at pains to stress afterwards that Russell’s words should not be read into too deeply, but as this story unfolds it seems that a festering tension has developed into a full-blown personality clash which could deprive Scotland of one of its most important players during a pivotal Six Nations campaign.


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1880 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

29 Comments

  1. He deserves to be disciplined. No player is bigger than the team. However, it appears to have been managed exceptionally badly and publicly. From what has been written, I would lay vast majority of blame on the management. How could they let something escalate to this point. Aside from the impact on the Scottish team, the unavailability of Russell will be a big confidence boost to the others.

  2. Townsend should have gone after the World Cup.Scotland went from being almost semi-finalists in 2015 to not qualifying for the second stage in 2019,all under his watch.
    The performance against Ireland was the worst I can remember from a Scottish team.They played as if they had met just before kick off and it was quite evident after 10 minutes that they would lose.
    The SRU is in a rotten state at the moment; the situation regarding Russell senior continues to fester and it was recently announced that the CEO Mr.Dodson has received an increase in salary of 100% to about £933,000.It is about time he started earning it.
    Incidentally Dondson’s counterpart in the Welsh Rugby Union earns about a third of his amount and which country is the more successful.
    New brooms are required both on and off the field.

  3. GT IS NOT good enough to manage the national team, he should never have got the job. Management at SRU is also poor and has been for a while.

    This whole incident should have been dealt with internally and NOT broadcast to the outside world. If FR has broken protocol then it’s right that he faces consequences but the way this has been ‘managed’ is embarrassing!

    Looks like us loyal Scotland fans are in for another poor showing this year. The SRU need to demonstrate some good, solid leadership to get this sorted out and with luck get rid of the failure that is GT.

    • Murphy is an Irish name isn’t it? Seriously, I agree with Gary Scott; this should have been more diplomatically dealt with instead of the whole affair being broadcast in all its gory detail. Time to move on and give AH his chance with DW in reserve as a safe pair of hands (and good kicker). Should Cockers be offered the job I wonder?

  4. What a complete mess and so unnecessary. GT should have been replaced at the end of the World Cup, but is still in post and everything is falling down around him. Three senior players retire from internationals, major incident with FR that should have been resolved with tact and diplomacy, Darcy Graham out injured, Duncan Weir called up as backup to AH and the list goes on. This would not have happened under VC and losing the dressing room as GT appears to have done will be fatal to team moral.

    • Eh? Can VC stop players getting old and broken and therefore delay their retirement. Wow, what a guy!

      If the SRU sack GT and so are seen to be always backing the player, I can’t imagine there’ll be many applying to be head coach. Cockers rightly won the battle of wills with Bradbury when he stepped out of line albeit without doing all the dirty washing in public

  5. Absolute bottom line: choice between Russell and Townsend, no question Russell for this World Cup cycle. Even the SRU will see that. Maybe takes a games or two, possibly a tournament, but if Russell not brought back, GT does not survive this (nor does Hogg’s captaincy if he any part – pure speculation).

  6. Can’t disagree re coach v player requiring only one winner but in reality it’s usually a lose/lose, so public confrontation best avoided unless absolutely necessary. Hard to know without being there but as widely recognised in social media, regardless of the merits, £1 million going to the same board who sacked his dad the week before would make anyone emotional, let alone the #10 who already carries so much pressure to perform.

  7. If Finn was back in Stirling/Bridge of Allan by 10, the latest train he could have got was the 8.35pm and he would have had to leave the hotel 10/15 minutes earlier. If he got to Edinburgh much before 8, which seems unlikely, it doesn’t leave much time for a ‘drinking session’. The SRU statement that ‘he has returned to his club’ seems deliberately misleading, when they could have simply said he had been released by Townsend. Their lack of clarity opened the door to a great deal of detrimental speculation, some of it undoubtedly driven by leaks within the Scotland camp. Whatever the player’s indiscretion, the resulting handling of it has been a complete shambles that has brought Scotland’s image into disrepute yet again. There’s something rotten at the heart of Murrayfield.

  8. Good points above and a must that this is resolved asap. We need Finn desperately as Hastings is still quite raw.

  9. Reads like gamesmanship from Finn- they had an allotted time to share a few beers and he started tanning them? Sounds like he’s challenging Toony to who is most indispensible. All guesswork though.

    Timely reminder they’re all servants to a great country, think of the bigger picture. A win in Ireland is what it’s all about, not who you like and don’t like.

  10. Hope there is a way to resolve as Scotland does not have the luxury of loosing one of their few world class players ( Hogg is possibly the only other one). Seen other comments that, as well as the Townsend relationship he feels let down by his team mates re going public with their views which does not bode well for a team game.

    Another factor potentially is that Townsend could be under pressure for his job post World Cup and this might not be conducive to a balanced approach between them esp if there is already tension.
    In my opinion, Hastings is in good form and, although young, there is not likely to be as big an impact as there might have been. Bigger issue is who can provide back up for the stand off position.

  11. He played for Racing on the Sunday afternoon and had some drinks after the game in London. No doubt he would have a few on the journey up. He could easily have just called off anyway. I wonder if Sean Maitland trained on the Monday? He played the same game as Finn. I would really like to know the answer to that.

    Maybe Gregor Townsend should speak to Walter Smith about how to deal with this situation. He understood Paul Gascoigne and brought the very best out of him, alcoholic or not.

    Scotland are not that good these days, bourne out by our results at the World Cup. Can we afford to ignore the services of our best player?

  12. 100pc behind Finn on this. Just have to look at track record of those involved. He’s never let Scotland down and owns two Calcutta Cups (plus Barbarians). GT and staff hanging by a thread anyway and now they fail to manage the most important, universally well-like player (in form of his life at Racing). Unless resolved before Ireland, so that Finn plays, they should save everyone the time and go now. Additionally, reads from above that others involved and Finn made an example of. The whole thing speaks of thoughtless treatment where there was already legitimate issues. This will go down as another unacceptable team decision by GT and sorry episode in history of this SRU…

  13. he played a major cup tie, flew to Scotland, had a few bonding beers with his mates on meeting up – as was encouraged by management – then went home at 10pm. what “protocol” could possibly be breached! Handled unbelievably badly. If he has a drink problem then recognise it and do something positive like arrange counselling/ therapy but keep him on board. Re Monday’s training – surely a rest day after a Euro cup tie is sensible. Instead harsh “consequences” are meted out. It’s so sad because Russell is in many ways Townsend’s creation from their Glasgow days..

    • This is exactly what I was thinking. Surely Finn needed Monday off anyway to avoid injury. He had just played a Euro cup game that day and rest of the day in taxis, waiting in airports, planes, taxis. While the rest of the squad ( less Gloucester and Saracens players) had sunday off.

    • “It’s so sad because Russell is in many ways Townsend’s creation from their Glasgow days..”
      You are absolutely right, so sad indeed!

  14. How many beers can you have bearing in mind the most time he could have at the bar would be a couple of hours…

  15. I understand from messages I have seen, that I probably shouldn’t have, that this is an accurate description of what happened. Given that Racing’s loss also put a lot of his team mates out of the Champions Cup it is pretty poor behaviour no matter his talents. Unbelievably selfish as the ones who will continue to suffer are the ever loyal fans. I’m used to be down for a week after the 6 nations has finished, not a week before it has begun!

    • His team mates were put out of the Champions Cup by their own inability to beat a second string La Rochelle at Scotstoun, they should never have been in a position of relying on other results.

  16. So he played for Racing in the afternoon, travelled to meet the team in Scotland, and left to his parents at 10pm? Doesn’t seem like enough time to get absolutely steaming.

    It’s a big challenge for Hogg as captain and possibly the new players’ union. Either way it needs to get sorted out.

    On the two issues you raise (the Keith Russell affair, and the fact Scotland look over-coached yet under-prepared), I think there would be a fair bit of sympathy for Finn.

  17. Sadly, this looks very messy and might take some time to sort. GT has his critics but when senior players are also telling FR to stop drinking, FR has crossed a line. Let’s hope egos don’t get in the way of clearing this up

    • Everyone deserves a second chance, especially the best stand off in the world at the moment. After reading all the comments posted, I sense their is corruptnes going on with the SRU and being a big Townsend fan, firmly believe he has outstayed his welcome as the Scotland coach. Sadly not looking forward to the six nations without our key playmaker Finn Russell.

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