Finn Russell looks forward to having a stronger relationship with Gregor Townsend

Exiled stand-off believes there is a wilingness on both sides to find an amicable resolution to a very public spat

Finn Russell is currently in lockdown in Paris. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Finn Russell is currently in lockdown in Paris. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

FINN RUSSELL believes that his relationship with Gregor Townsend can be stronger in the long-run following his very public spat with the national team head coach, and hopes that he may yet still play a role in Scotland’s Six Nations campaign by being part of the squad for the postponed match against Wales, whenever that happens. 

In a conference call interview with former Scotland second-row turned media pundit Jim Hamilton for The Lockdown, a new series being run by the RugbyPass website, the exiled Scotland stand-off said he had no regrets about the interview he gave The Sunday Times at the height of the fall-out in which he made some fairly scathing observations of Townsend – but made it clear that there is willingness on both sides to move on in order to find an amicable resolution.

“I think there will be a lot of discussions and catchups to fix it, which will be good,” said the stand-off. “In the long-run it will be good for us as well, not just in the short-term to try and just fix things and patch it over. I think going forward for myself, Gregor and the team, it will be good that we can actually have a better relationship with each other and we can actually properly work forward.


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Asked if it was up to him to ‘hold his hands up’ or whether it needed to be a mutual process, Russell replied: “I think it’s got to be both. The way it has all come out is what it is, but I think me and Gregor actually now have a better understanding of each other having called each other during the Six Nations, and I think now he has a better understanding of where I’m coming from.”

While Russell did not return to camp during the Six Nations, he did play a role in helping plot Scotland’s shock defeat of Grand Slam chasing France, which was an important part of the healing process.

“I spoke to him [Townsend] before the France game and tried to help him out,” he explained. “With me being over here a year and half, and how I felt they were going to play, I tried to help them out like that, and I kept in touch with a few of the boys the whole time.

“In the fallow week before the France game I called Gregor and said that I didn’t know if I was going to get called back in or not, but I think for everyone it is best that we just leave it for now and start again after the Six Nations and move forward from there.

“I’d been back here – back and forward – and there had been a lot of talking and I think it was better just for me to just make a decision to stop it before the last two games and let the boys go ahead and focus on the game without any of the journalists chatting about it again. And then I said to Gregor that we can start working on this again after the Six Nations.

“It was good, it was fine. I think just now with nothing on I will give him a call at some point, have a chat and try to move things on.

“Also, the summer tour, I don’t know if that will go ahead now,” he continued. “Because we were speaking about that: fixing things before the summer tour, which would be good, obviously, but I don’t know if that will go ahead now or not. Still, for me, I want to fix things, and we’ll work it out in a few months I think.”

Opinion has been divided on the wisdom of Russell giving an explosive interview to The Sunday Times midway through the Six Nations, but the player clearly feels that he had no choice but respond to some of the speculation which was being peddled at the time.

“The way it was all coming out … I kept quiet and didn’t want to put anything out there. Then I felt after a time that I had to say my side, how I was feeling. I was getting kind of frustrated – not annoyed but frustrated – seeing everything that was coming out about me in the media. Everything you get nowadays on social media and everything else. And I was like: ‘this isn’t actually what the story is, I need to say my side and what is happening here.’

“It was me sticking up for myself saying, saying: ‘that’s just one side of the story and this is my side of the story’. I suppose there is always two sides to a story, so I had to say mine and I don’t regret it at all. It was just something I had to do in the context of it all.”

It has been stated by some media outlets that Russell has alienated himself from some of his team-mates, but the player indicated that his relationship with team captain Stuart Hogg will withstand any friction caused by this fall-out, and is clearly hopeful that everyone involved will be able to let bygones be bygones.

“I have a good relationship with Hoggy as well,” he said. “It was fine. Before the article came out I spoke to him and Ali [Price]. I said that there is an article coming out tomorrow which is my side of the way things are going. So, I gave them a heads-up before it.

“It is different me being outside looking into it, but it is fine. It will be alright.”

With Scotland’s summer tour to South Africa and New Zealand now looking doubtful, it seems increasingly likely that the postponed final Six Nations game against Wales [in the Autumn] will be the pivotal moment when we discover if Russell has a Scotland future whilst Townsend is head coach.

“I don’t know, it will be interesting to see how the next few months go,” said Russell. “Who knows if I will play a part in the Six Nations this year? You never know!

“There is a few months left until the end of the season and I think the plan is for me and Gregor to try and catch-up a couple of times, if not in person then over the phone or on FaceTime, to try and move things forward for the summer tour. We spoke a lot about the summer tour going forward and how we can work on things for then, and how we can both come back together for the summer tour if not before.”


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1818 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.

11 Comments

  1. Totally sick of everyone indulging Finn Russell. He behaved totally unprofessionally and disrespectfully to everyone involved. I think he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’ll be genuinely forgiven by the players and coach if he doesn’t show some humility.

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  2. There are two sides to every disagreement. In order to move that forward both sides have to admit to, and amend past behaviours. If that only happens on one side then it will not be resolved. FR is being paid a hefty salary at Racing and I am sure that will continue for the foreseeable future, barring injury.

    Toony needs to admit he got things wrong with man management, and trying to do more with less experience in the coaching set up.

    The key here is to learn, and move forward with the platform we have from the last two games in the 6N. We cannot play just one style of rugby. It has to be a toolkit that fits the opponent, and circumstance we are playing under. Look at all the great teams…they were adaptable, reactive/proactive, cohesive and tough to break down.

    I truly hope it gets sorted as Fr is truly a world class player, and despite those that say we don’t need him….we do. His creativity can be flawed but Jesus when it works…it really works, and inspires the rest of the team to do more.

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  3. Replying to a reply directly doesn’t seem possible David, so, fair enough, I don’t believe Townsend is due the credit because of the utter hopelessness of some of the team performances since then, that he must be held responsible for. You are more generous in your assessment and quite entitled to be so. Examples for me, Twickenham last year, the World Cup warm-ups, the game against Ireland at the World Cup and many others. When it clicks, great, we play fast, exciting rugby, as seen in these 2017 games. When it doesn’t, we get humped. Same players, very different results. Why?

    One of the main differences in this year’s 6 Nations has been the improved defence and I think scalps could have been taken against Ireland and Wales, as the new coaches get bedded in. We’ll see in the remaining fixture, whenever that happens. What the attack would have been like, who knows, Hastings isn’t Russell and that’s both good and bad. Unfortunately, Hastings can also have a bad day at the office.

    I’m not one for prima donnas, so am wary of that being a factor in Russell’s absence, but I also believe the appointment of a leadership team and decisions made in his absence when there was still plenty of time until the first game was insulting to Russell and either poorly judged or deliberately antagonistic. There is good reason for the Russell family not to feel warmth towards the SRU and there are leadership issues to be addressed with some urgency ahead of a commitment to subscription television only for the 6 Nations, but whether anyone above Townsend had an influence on the squad leadership appointment, I don’t know. It smells ever so slightly.

    Scottish rugby will be in a mess if it’s completely lost to free to air television, but the Scotland team is less likely to win without Russell’s direct involvement. Winning sells tickets and pays tv subscriptions.

    (Can you tell I’m filling my lockdown time however I can?)

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    • Cheers for the reply, MacBog. I agree with 90%+ of what you’re saying. That period between Autumn 2018 & RWC19 was undeniably a big step backwards. It sounds like Townsend’s attention to detail (which the players had previously praised) went too far. It’s not just Finn – McInally and Barclay have made similar noises.

      I think the message has got through though. In the 6N we stopped seeing the over-intricate set moves; Tandy has reportedly simplified the defence and been less prescriptive – with obvious results; and players are doing the simple things well, like forwards running onto the ball instead of a standing start. Can’t wait for international rugby to resume, to see if this early progress continues. The potential is there to be even better than 2017 (which was entertaining but not sustainable).

      Vern deserved another shot at the World Cup, and Townsend may have benefited from a spell coaching outside the SRU (at Quins or whoever was rumoured to want him). But we are where we are. I’d rather see us succeed with a Scottish coach, and in my opinion Toonie is still the outstanding candidate. Plus as an Edinburgh fan, I don’t want us to loose Cockerill unless absolutely necessary!

    • MacBog – I totally agree with almost everything you’re saying, and I’m not trying to defend the coaching in 2019. The players initially praised Townsend’s attention to detail, but latterly it seemed to become a straightjacket.

      I do think we’ve turned a corner though. This 6N we look like we’ve gone back to basics. There’s an interesting piece from Barclay online, saying how Tandy has simplified the defence and made it less prescriptive. The attack is still a work in progress, but we’re seeing fewer intricate set plays, and some basic improvements, like forwards running onto the ball instead of taking it standing. There’s a legitimate question about why it took so long, but we are where we are, and I hope we get back to playing and watching rugby soon, to see if it can continue!

    • There’s some very odd logic going on in these posts. GT must be held responsible for Twickenham last year – Scotland’s best result at twickenham since we drew in 1989 – and Scotland under Toonie never reached the heights under Cotter, whose last game in charge was a record defeat to England. Hmmm.

      I think it’s pretty clear that Scotland progressed for the first year under Townshend and the near miss against NZ and home and away victories against Australia, followed by that remarkable beating of England at Murrayfield, represented the best rugby we’ve played since 1999.

      Shame the wheels subsequently fell off the bus but we are looking roadworthy again. Townshend is still on thin ice but he’s bought himself more time and given the coronavirus disruption he’ll almost certainly be in place for next year’s 6N.

  4. I think if you read this properly and analyse the comments made by Russell I would be a bit annoyed if I was Townsend.

    “I spoke to him [Townsend] before the France game and tried to help him out,”
    ” I think now he has a better understanding of where I’m coming from”
    ” I think it was better just for me to just make a decision to stop it before the last two games and let the boys go ahead and focus on the game without any of the journalists chatting about it again. And then I said to Gregor that we can start working on this again after the Six Nations.”
    “I don’t regret it at all”

    Doesn’t suggest even a hint of contrition from him which is very disappointing. The simple fact is he cannot be bigger than the team (or coach) so until he accepts that, which I am not sure he does, I am pretty happy to continue without him

    Hopefully I am reading this wrongly!

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    • Might be wrong but think its fine. Then again didnt see much in The Sunday Times article either. Without tone and body language, easy to get hung up on the words without being able to check and clarify.

      This was a no win for either from the off, then it got worse… GT was never going to be able to pick him for last 2 games so FR rightly removed himself from the equation ( if that’s indeed what he’s saying ). Problem for coach solved by player.

      Crucially the team did well (realistically) as did AH. No lasting damage. Time to move on.

  5. Watching the autumn internationals from 2017 on YouTube over the last two weeks has shown a very different style of play from largely the same players that played in this year’s 6 Nations. That was Townsend’s first tests in charge, so it seems fare to suggest it reflected more where Cotter had taken the team. It’s a far more focussed and coherent team than what has been seen since, even when Russell is playing. I wonder if that team, which was not far away from our first victory over New Zealand, would have been more successful against Ireland with their new coach in February. Wales are not the force they were under Gatland either and I do believe there is an opportunity for a Scottish win, if Russell is playing. What that must not be allowed to do, is paper over the cracks Townsend’s confused coaching has created.

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    • Townsend’s first year or so in charge took us to a level we hadn’t played at under Cotter. I’m a huge fan of Vern and what he did for us, but it’s pretty miserly not to give Townsend credit for that 2017/18 period. McFarland leaving was a big blow, and the play certainly looked confused and muddled for too long after that. Tandy and de Villiers seem to have been a breath of fresh air, and there’s a bit more dog in the current team, which I like.

      Townsend has faults like any coach, but on the whole he seems able to learn and adapt. We were too reliant on Finn in the past which wasn’t healthy for anyone. Hopefully this whole episode will benefit the player, coach and team in the long run.

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    • Watched the interview and you could read between the lines that FR didn’t want to endorse too much for Scotland attaining the win, so likely him grudging that tactics were good.

      His bread is buttered in France at the moment. I hope he decides simply to choose to play for Scotland, whoever the manager is and do his best within himself. That’s all he can do.

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