Gregor Townsend issues a statement in response to Finn Russell article

Door remains open for exiled stand-off to return to the Scotland fold but he will have to adapt to 'the standards currently being lived by the group'

Gregor Townsend during the warm-up to Saturday's Cackutta Cup match. Image: FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON
Gregor Townsend during the warm-up to Saturday's Cackutta Cup match. Image: FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON

GREGOR TOWNSEND has issued a statement in response to an interview given by exiled Scotland stand-off Finn Russell in The Sunday Times newspaper.

In the statement, Townsend insisted that the door remains open for Russell to return to the Scotland set-up, but added that the ball is in the player’s court to prove that he can fit in and add value to the environment. The statement does not specifically address any of the issues raised by the player with regard to the personal relationship between the two men, stating instead that it is up to Russell to “accept and adhere to the standards currently being lived by the group”.

Townsend said:

“Following a newspaper article at the weekend I want to take the opportunity to address a few issues regarding Finn’s involvement with the squad.

“We strive to create an environment for players to be at their absolute best when playing for Scotland. To do that players must be aligned to the high standards of being involved in team sport at an elite level.

“These standards are set out through feedback from players and staff and are driven by the player leadership group or the head coach at varying times during a campaign.

“We have players who come from around a dozen different clubs and it’s really important they commit to an agreed standard of behaviour, which builds trust and is at the bedrock of a high-performance environment.

“These standards don’t change for one player, even if that’s not what they experience in their club setting.

“A really pleasing aspect of the last three weeks has been seeing the group commit to this high-performance standard, bond as a group of young men and show consistency and quality on the training field. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.


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“Following the World Cup, we reviewed a number of aspects of our environment and how that could lead to improved performances from the national team. This process involved taking lots of feedback from players, coaches, management and external input, on what we need to do better.

“Changes start from what we do as a coaching group and I learned a lot from the experience in Japan to how I can coach the team better. How we run our week’s training to unlock the full potential in the squad is what drives us as coaches.

“We believe we are in a much better place following the tournament and review. We clearly didn’t perform on the field as well as we had planned and, off the field, felt certain standards of behaviour had slipped at times.

“Our team leaders made the decision there would be no drinking after our opening match of the Six Nations and they have been working closely with me on improving other aspects of our environment.

“I’ve loved working with Finn over the past seven years. In that time, I’ve coached him at Glasgow Warriors and with Scotland. He was one of my first signings in the academy at Glasgow. I had watched him train and play the previous season and thought there was a player of real potential.

“That season, training in our academy and playing for Ayr, we felt he had earned the opportunity to be part of the exclusive Macphail scholarship programme in New Zealand. That experience proved to be invaluable and he really kicked on the following season, making his mark for the Warriors then for Scotland.

“He’s been brilliant to coach at club and international level. He’s very coachable and I’ve worked with him in a very similar way throughout those seven years.

“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. 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.

“To play for Scotland takes total commitment. 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 the 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.”


Finn Russell breaks silence for the first time since Scotland walk-out

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1863 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.

55 Comments

  1. With his Tom English interview GT has just confirmed just about everything that Finn said.
    How on Earth did the SRU sanction this interview. Another pathetic incompetent attempt to hide just how dysfunctional they are – and all they do is achieve the opposite. Just when Scottish rugby was building a good solid fan base, they have destroyed it. GT says that Finn presents a distorted view. Laughable when you read his response – a distortion in every line. Time or them to grow up admit they were both acting stupidly in the heat of the moment. But Townsend puts another nail in his own coffin – I wonder just how any of the players feel the way he claims. There certainly can’t be much fun playing for Scotland under the present regime.

  2. What an utter shambles. You really couldn’t make it up. When did anything similar ever happen?

    What did happen?
    Russel & Maitland on way to airport after game in London. Hogg informs Russell that the players senior group (or whatever their title is) had decided on a number of new ‘protocols’.

    Russell then asks Hogg ‘what meeting? I am on that group I didn’t even know a meeting was taking place. Why was I not told?’ Apparently there were at least a dozen ‘protocols’ that had been decided upon.

    By the time Russell reached the hotel he wanted to find out what the hell was going on, why had he been excluded? Not even a phone call or txt message? No clear answers were fortcoming.

    And despite the SRU leaks and smears he was not drunk when he arrived at the hotel, nor did he drink ‘into the night’.

    We can pontificate about who said what to whom and when. Or even those too arrogant to engage in a normal way with one of the team’s best players. One nominated for European player of the year in 2019.

    But what we can see with our own eyes is the England game from last year. The first half run to Townsend’s plans and no doubt protocols was when we hid behind the settee not bearing to watch.

    The second half was when we were on our feet shouting, cheering and laughing.

    Which do you prefer?

  3. What Townsend doesn’t clarify is when did he tell Finn he wouldn’t be picked for the Ireland match – Sunday night – in which case that must be the totally wrong decision on his part as emotions were clearly high and decision feels pre-meditated, when Finn didn’t turn up for training on Monday? or after the ‘constructive’ meeting on Monday evening? If the last one then Townsend’s view of a constructive meeting and mine are miles away. Also SRU statement makes great emphasis of Finn refusing to support preparations for the Ireland game. Let me get this straight – conversation goes Finn I’m dropping you from Ireland game but we need your help so stay and prepare the team if you want to. I know what my response would be if I were Finn and the second word is off. If it wasn’t he has shown far greater restraint than I could. But hey that’s the standard of man management we expect from the SRU

  4. To me Gregor’s response reads like a Donald Trump tweet. Am I reading it right?

    1. He’s saying he is responsible for spotting and creating Finn.

    2. If you play for Scotland you have to blindly follow and never question anything even if that means we take a thrashing at Twickenham. Because of the sacrifices people have made for 150 years.

    How does this help the situation? All it does is further entrench his position. I expect better from the Head Coach. I don’t understand why couldn’t he let it lie he had said his piece. He sounds like a toddler, his judgement to me is way off beam!

    Are any other players going to come forward now and blow the whistle on total nonsense. High time Toonie was sent home to demand higher standards from his rose bushes.

  5. You would think it would be prudent for the SRU & Townsend to put an end to this ASAP.That appears not to be the case??
    Scotland have difficult games ahead, we have to start winning games not be complacent in defeat.Excuses after every game is just not acceptable.
    There must be change

    • The way I’m reading this is regardless of results Townsend stays as getting rid would seam to back Russell and undermine Dobson. So we are stuck with a manager wasting the talents of a squad for a while now. If Townsend£ stays that’s 8 season tickets I’m not renewing.

  6. My tuppence…

    A distinct lack of understanding of the modern world, game and its players by the SRU. A complete refusal to compromise, communications that are poor at best, and a leadership team who will not recognise error of judgement.

    We also have a team that has not moved forward since last year. we are in a rut of poor performances, lack of direction on the field, low confidence and huge errors from the playing group. Lets not sugar-coat this. Disastrous world cup, disastrous start to the six nations, disastrous performances as a whole of the last few years, with the exception of minor blips.

    There is a rot going on inside the SRU that has been there for years. We go from the sublime to the ridiculous on regular occasion and cannot pull together a run of performances that we can build on.

    The answer?

    i’m not sure. But I do know that all of this is not going on because everything is great within the SRU or the squad.

    • Grant
      You are absolutely spot on with your comments I hope the SRU, Townsend and his coaching staff take stock.
      Yes but what is the answer ???? the simple solution is to sack Townsend.

    • Grant I agree totally. Also how many coaches has Townsend gone through in his tenure? I’m not sure of the numbers but it feels like quite a few – maybe because he doesn’t allow them to do their jobs their way?

  7. Despite recent results and frustration, I think we need to keep faith with and get behind the squad. Completely losing faith in our players and coach will not help the team mid tournament and dig their way out of this…Review everything after tournament.

    • You mean similar to our in depth review after the disastrous world cup. It will be another smoove over by one of Dodsons mates. Nothing to see move on.Dodson and his band of merry acolytes have Scottish rugby by the corporate balls and the clubs dont have the will or the power to do anything about it. Nothing will change until 2023 when his Contract is up. Performance of the national teams are completely unimportant in the 1984 world of Dodson…unless of course people start voting with their feet and this impacts the great mans kpi’s for personal remuneration.

  8. Who are this players’ leadership group – only ones that I can think of would be Hogg Gray and the hookers. Of these only Gray got pass marks I’m the first two tests – Hogg gifted 12-14 points and the line out is so bad the opposition’s kick into touch to gain possession. Precious little evidence of leadership on pitch in first two games and last 20 minutes on Saturday was completely brainless. That said GT is hiding behind this group – as Finn said he doesn’t want input from the players – arrogant bullying leadership with no man management skills

  9. Finn’s 27 years old , has almost 59 caps and is arguably the best 10 in World rugby and certainly in Europe. He’d played a high intensity European Cup match- Edinburgh and Glasgow played the day before and no doubt the players had a few beers after. He is the play maker and puts himself at physical risk – targeted by all opponents – but he won’t play for Scotland unless he bows at the feet of Townsend and quite frankly the joke of a captain that is Stuart Hogg. It’s a sick joke.

    • Well said ‘The Borderer’
      I know who I believe in all this and it’s not the side represented by anything SRU.
      And
      Your points well made re Hogg, does something “mercurial” now and again, the rest of the time he’s a club player. Think I remember a player like that before!!!

    • “joke of a captain that is Stuart Hogg’??? How we Scots love to shoot at vulnerable targets. No, any target.
      …’bows at the feet Townsend…’? No, Finn’s broken the rules applied by his fellow players, has written an unpleasant, divisive and contentious article blaming the world for his issues (for some of which he agreed to seek help).
      Until he comes back into the fold voluntarily, he will split the camp wide open.
      I am saddened to lose him from the squad because he’s a wonderful player.
      But rugby’s a team game and I have seen only speculation as to whether Towsend has lost the changing room. If that were so, don’t you think he’d know? And would go? Or has he become a ‘joke’ too?

    • JN demonstrate why Hogg has done anything to justify being captain. He is a fantastic intuitive rugby player, but is not strategic either in terms of leading the team, communicating with referees or changing tactics during a game. As for Townsend yes I believe he has lost the dressing room and it is only the SRU Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented the truth coming out. Taylor ( the best rugby player I’ve played with or against according to Jamie George) dropped because of Saracens scheduling (didn’t impact selection of Maitland) Ryan Wilson; dropped a hard aggressive leader on the field (but I suspect a bit outspoken). Ritchie Gray a proven line out operator didn’t want to play in World Cup. As earlier article stated there was no review of World Cup debacle – I wonder why? Adam Hastings and Price have gone as far as they dare publicly to support Finn and I take my hats off to them

  10. Ultimately success is about performances and results.
    GT was a success as a player but not a an international coach. He also seems to fall short in his man management skills.
    He seems to have changed his tone in this statement. All was going to well up until FR’s statement (GT is implying) but that wasn’t the tone after they spoke last Sunday. We had a conversation, “was it positive”, we had a conversation.
    Why was FR excluded from the England game, if everything was sounding so positive? Again poor man management. You need to put yourself in FR’s position when you are messaging to the media.
    FR is Scotland’s truly only world class player (in my opinion). A top coach not even a world class one would find a way of blending his skills, talents and behaviours into a better functioning Scotland team.
    Way too much is being made of him having too many beers (wanted a 3rd when the limit was 2 – no one is disputing this).
    This is just the cover story for a player pushing back and saying things are not right. Results and performances tell you things are not right. I was in Yokohama to personally witness the worst Scotland performance I can remember watching. It was clear to me then that GT had no idea how to prepare and set up an international team.
    Things will get better, not though by tightening rules on drinking and protocols but with a new coach.
    Sorry GT I hear what you say
    “This process involved taking lots of feedback from players, coaches, management and external input, on what we need to do better.” but I don’t accept that you are listening. If you were you would have tendered your resignation.

    • Stephen
      Great comments I must agree I think you have got it spot on.
      Townsend has been given to many chances,other nations would have not even given him a second chance.

  11. What a shamble…
    In Finn’s case, i wonder how is his life in France, the pro/star environment in Racing 92 full of money, a covered stadium for Rugby and concerts with a capacity of 30,000 (which i don’t like to watch a game of rugby).
    At 27, earning around 630000 Euros a year, not a long time ago, at Scotstoun with his pals…
    I don’t know, I just hope it does not break everything.

  12. Make no mistake, Finn Russell’s chances of a Lions call up will be enhanced by not playing for Scotland and continuing to play so well for his French club.

    • Actually the opposite is true. Gatland didn’t pick him for the squad last time as, like EJ, he doesn’t like Mavericks. Now Finn has almost doubled down on that image by rebelling and frankly refusing to commit to his country, regardless of whatever complaints he has about the system. Gatland won’t go near someone he regards or even suspects is disruptive. It’s desperately bad decision making by Finn IMO, he’s only got a few years to play in the biggest games and I think he’s missing the bigger picture here. I’m desperate to see him play for the Lions but I think we’re just destined to keep suffering on that front

  13. Well nothing new here! Just a SRU PR response stating that there is no compromise on offer. We are not interested in changing anything that might make the player more comfortable in the squad. 100% complience expected from the top down. By the top I mean from Dodson.
    “We strive to create an environment for players to be at their absolute best when playing for Scotland.” Apart from Russell it would appear?
    Once again it implies that Russell has a drink problem? It was suggested that the player saw a pyschologist. This he did immediately. He has been willing to engage to see if there is an inderlying problem he is not aware of. Good on you Finn! You have shown willing but now that is not acceptable to the coach who suggested the consultation? The SRU and/or Townsend(whoever is pulling the strings here) are showing/stating that they will not move their position. The player must make all the changes. Failure once again on the part of the SRU. Russell’s father defeated the SRU in court and still they did not accept the decision! I doubt they will move even 1% for anyone in this family? Leadsership comes from the top. However, it would appear that it is a well paid dictatorship that manages the SRU?
    No need for any further comments or opinons. We must do without our world class player because he does not fit the SRU/Dodson/Townsend profile! Still he is not alone a number of former employees were disposed of and were required to sign non-disclosure agreements with the exception of Keith Russell who stood up to them!

  14. Why highlight that the team leaders decided no drinking after the opening match – the Fin Russell incident took place prior to the opening match.

    • They decided beers on the first Sunday when they met. They have now decided no drink firings the 6 Nations, quite clear to me.

    • As I understand, Finn, said in his statement that the decision not to drink more than two beers that first evening was made by the other team leaders before he arrived, as he arrived a bit after due to playing for his club in France at the start of their training time together. I understand that his complain was that, he as a leader had been cut out of things, wasn’t given a say before the decision was made, and that was typical of what had been happening. Personality clash maybe what behind the two not getting along, but it maybe too that both wants everything their own way. Where then I say Fin needs to suck it up, and get on and play for Scotland. Difficult as it wiĺl be, differences of opinion, personallity clash,even and what happened to his dad would have to be put behind him, to playing for his country. Not an easy one.

  15. Of course we want our national team to be professional and fully committed – but we also want them to have fun while playing what is, ultimately, a game! The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I remember Kieran Read coming off the field at half time in a tight Bledisloe Cup game and telling the reporter “it’s heaps of fun out there.”

    Finn clearly loves playing rugby, and it’s very concerning that the SRU structure seems to be killing that basic joy.

    • Ultimately, it is a business. Dodson understands this more than most. Which is why his “earnings ” are touching £1m a year. Forget sport. What is a”game”? business is a machine that makes money.

  16. Probably appropriate and quite balanced. Agree the only way forward is face to face conversation but much as I like Finn and think the whole situation has been poorly handled, he can’t dictate the terms under which he will play imo

  17. GT’s statement is straight out of the coaching manual. Well reasoned and logical but I think he makes a basic error by trying to manage his player through media statements. Keep it private out of respect for each other. This war of words in the papers has no winner. Russell’s international career (incl Lions) is on hold at the least if not now ended I fear.
    Finally Russell’s interview seemed to hint at some sort of mental health issue which is a worry.

  18. Townsend clearly thinks he has done nothing to alienate Russell. If your star player walks out and says what he has said surely it would induce a modicum of doubt in a normal person?

  19. I admit I was initially sympathetic to Russell and critical of Townsend and SRU and this latest statement is straight out of the manual but clearly that Monday evening 3 hour meeting did not go positively despite what both sides are now saying. There seems to have been a distinct lack of candour in the face to face meetings. It’s clear to me now that Russell should have been told on the Sunday night in no uncertain terms, a la Fergie hairdryer if necessary, to the effect that to stay in the team you have to observe the agreed standards. It’s not too much to ask for a limit of 2 beers for heaven’s sake and to show up for team meetings & (I assume light) training on day #1. Once he knew that he was risking his international career – a possible Lions call up too – for another swally perhaps he would instead have swallowed his pride, apologised and agreed to fall in line. We should never have heard about this. What a tragedy. Well we must move on so I hope that all the good sounding coachspeak can now be translated into better performances and results. Specifically some calm and assurance at full back,some creative play leading to tries (remember them?), a reliable line out (get Scott Murray in as specialist coach?) and continued improvement in defence.

    • He had played a game against Saracens that afternoon and flown up to join the squad, a reunion of friends. He then discovered the two beer rule that evening and over-reacted. I guess he might have thought “all very well for them deciding for me but they haven’t just played saracens”. The match against ireland was still 13 days away.

      Could someone ‘senior’ not have decided to defer the start of the new rule until the next day in a pragmatic common sense compromise sort of way? I also think that your comment about FR’s interview hinting at a mental health issue is not a helpful contribution to this debate.

  20. Seems like there is a simple communication breakdown between them, easily resolved, stop playing it out in the papers and just put them in a room together over a couple of beers…..doh!

    • Bang on, this’ll never get resolved unless they sit down and talk. Playing it out in the press is no way to mediate. Failure to resolve this could cost toony dear and surely in Finns case, international rugby is the pinnacle and he’s missing out on the best playing days of his career.

  21. GT posts a detailed response to FR’s article. I thought the response was well balanced and fully addressed the points made by FR. I would say the ball is firmly in FR’s court now. Two other points FR gives no explanation of why he went home or why de did not turn up on the Monday. Secondly gone are the days when situations like this can be hidden from the medis

  22. There is obviously a rift (chasm) between coach and player but every time Gregor makes a statement it is all about what Finn has to do before he can re enter the fold. There is nothing about the coach/senior player group(which Finn was a part)perhaps willing to compromise so that the situation can be resolved. I believe Jim Mallender is now in situ so perhaps he could broker a deal to bring both parties together which is required and desperately wanted by all Scottish rugby supporters. Hopefully his man management skills are better than others within the SRU.

  23. To be very honest it is a fact that Scotland falls short on every occasion recently, this has to be down to the coach and his staff, there will be no improvement until we attract a Top coach who can get the best out of this group. The Finn story is just a side show hiding the Bigger issue.
    Change is needed.

    • Sure, let’s just shift the goalposts to make a specific environment that directly caters to one player. The rest of the squad who are in the current environment will have to adjust because its what Finn wants and has at Racing92. It’s nonsense, if he really wanted to play for Scotland he would, he clearly only wants to play on his terms and obviously have a degree of latitude to do what he wants. How many other elite 10’s in world rugby have played with coaches and environments they don’t like but they get on with it for the team. If we had won the last 2 games this would be a sidenote, we narrowly lost in Dublin and the Calcutta cup was a freak weather game that could have gone either way. Let’s judge the team and toony at the end of the six nations and get behind the current team till then.

  24. That’s a hell of a long response and seems to confirm the rumour that GT micro manages the players. It sounds like it was written with the SRU PR guru standing behind him. Sadly it doesn’t open the door for FR’s return so much as dictate the terms. Vern Cotter should have been kept on with GT as his No 2 for a couple of years but no point bemoaning that now.

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