Six Nations: Gregor Townsend says Scotland preparation is damaged by English clubs’ release policy

Scotland head coach says: "Our English-based players aren’t allowed to train with us even though clubs are off for a week,"

Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend appear to have got over their differences. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend believes his team is being unfairly disadvantaged during this Six Nations campaign by the refusal of Premiership Rugby Limited [PRL] – a private company who are principally responsible for the management of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby competition – to allow English-based players to train with their national team outside World Rugby’s ‘Regulation Nine’ designated international windows.

The situation has come to a head because a number of players – including co-captain and talisman Finn Russell, his Bath team-mate Cam Redpath, replacement props Alec Hepburn and Elliot Millar-Mills, and replacement back-row Andy Christie –  were not able to remain in camp with Scotland during the fallow week after the team’s home loss to France earlier this month, and they will also have to be kept at arm’s length this coming week ahead of taking on Italy away on 9th March, despite their clubs effectively being on holiday due to there being no Premiership matches throughout the eight-week Six Nations window.

PRL is an umbrella group which is owned by the 10 member clubs of England’s top flight league and CVC Capital Partners private equity firm. It’s position is that non-English players should only be available to their national teams on the weeks leading top to World Rugby designated matches, when clubs are required through ‘Regulation Nine’ to release them. The same rule is not being enforced for England players because of an agreement with RFU which involves core squad members being on ‘hybrid contracts’ and no Premiership games being scheduled during the Six Nations window this season.


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“We don’t have the best preparation,” said Townsend on Saturday night, speaking after Scotland’s 30-21 win over England at Murrayfield, and as he looked ahead to his team’s Six Nations round four clash against an Italy team who drew away against France this [Sunday] afternoon.

“Going into the Calcutta Cup game, England had double the preparation because our English-based players aren’t allowed to train with us even though there are no Premiership games; even though in this coming week clubs are off for a week,” he continued.

“We’re still not allowed to have the likes of Finn Russell training with us this week. Two training sessions was all we had as a team going into the England game, where it would have been four if we’d had them in the week before.

“I’d imagine it’s going to be the same situation this time [ahead of Italy game], which is a real disadvantage that we have. I don’t think it’s right for the competition’s overall integrity.”

Townsend acknowledged that Scottish Rugby have been in talks with PRL and World Rugby in recent weeks but efforts to find a common-sense solution to the stand-off have been to no avail, and he suggested that individual clubs such as Bath, for whom Russell and Redpath both play, are on board with releasing players outside the international windows if they have no games, but are hamstrung by having to abide by PRL policy.

“We have been [speaking to the relevant people], but we’ve had no success over the last two weeks to get our players,” he said. “There is apparently a bigger picture of player release, but the clubs have indicated to us that they want their players training with us, because there are no training sessions for them, or they are in the middle of a pre-season period.

“There is no game in the Premierhsip for seven or eight weeks but we still can’t have our co-captain who has been lighting up the Premiership even come into camp for two days’ training.

“It’s a credit to the players that they went into the England game after two sessions as a whole squad and delivered that performance.

“Regulation 9 is that we can only take players from outside of Scotland when there is an international week’s training,” he continued. “That is to stop players missing out on club games. But when there is no club competition, it doesn’t make any sense that you’re still not allowing a player to travel up from Bath or wherever.

“They could be spending time with their families and helping our preparation. But we had to run with Richie Simpson [last season’s Scotland Under-20s stand-off who has not played this season due to injury] at 10 for two sessions prior to the England game. He hasn’t played a game of pro rugby and he was playing inside Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones, outside George Horne.

“It’s not right and I really wish this situation was better because it’s not fair for our players.”

 

 

Townsend was reluctant to get into the details of why PRL are so intransigent on this matter, which has been a running sore for a number of years, and indicated that he has no realistic expectation of the situation changing during the coming fallow week ahead of Scotland taking on 9th March.

“It comes from PRL, so you can ask PRL,” he said. “When we’re playing England and they don’t allow our English-based players to come up, I don’t think they will change for Italy. If they do, why they didn’t do it this week is even more disappointing.

“You guys [the press] can ask why they wouldn’t change this when there is no Premiership Rugby on. PRL have told the clubs the players have to go back.

“Bath are off this week so the players won’t be training.”

A Premiership Rugby spokesman said: “Premiership Rugby can confirm the movement of players during the Guinness Six Nations fallow weeks as per World Rugby’s Regulation 9 – ‘Availability of Players’.

“Premiership Rugby has a long-standing agreement with the RFU for the release of England players to prepare for Test matches.

“As per World Rugby’s Regulation 9, all International players are released for the Unions in the defined periods and then return to their Premiership clubs – as per previous campaigns.

“While a review of World Rugby Regulation 9 compensation is undertaken ahead of a new global calendar from 2026, Premiership Rugby will continue to adhere to the regulation as it stands.”


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About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

17 Comments

  1. Simple enter a compo arrangement like England rugby do or don’t have access to the players.

    Oh forgot – all the money for that has been emptied in the walls of the smelly bogs at Murrayfield by Dodson and his pals.

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  2. This is a yawn-fest.

    Its either a distraction tactic from Toony to keep the pressure off the players or he’s just bitter that he can’t have his own way with players who play outside the union.

    Either way…it is what it is.

    We are seen as serial moaners with this nonsense. Let it be and focus on the task in hand which is to deal with a slippery Italy. If they can do that to France then they can do it to us too.

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  3. The 6 Nations should be the climax of the season which would also benefit the National teams
    by having nearly 2 months together before touring the southern hemisphere.
    The fragmented season should start with a complete domestic competition followed by a full European championship then the 6 Nations .

    • Totally agree and it would make huge financial sense as we would not need bloated squads at Glasgow and Edinburgh to cover the mid season international periods and the money saved could be invested in a Connacht style 3rd pro team developing players initially for Glasgow and Edinburgh until they mature and can compete on a level playing field. Connacht went from whipping boys to league champions.

  4. On the positive side the likes of Finn and Redpath don’t have to play this weekend as no Premiership games (unlike Kinghorn and White who will almost certainly need to turn out on Saturday in Top 14.
    With Tuipolotu likely out at least Cam and Finn can run around together in Bath this week in preparation for likely combination in Italy!
    But,yes,it does seem non-sensical that they can’t train up here when their clubs have no weekend games and wouldn’t object to them just staying up in Edinburgh.

    • There are several options, ignore the PRL who appear to be wanting an inducement in order to release the players, they are after all a collective of individuals running a cartel with a dubious ethical attitude with behind the door threats to the RFU regarding promotion of clubs from English Championship. They want financial compensation, and if the SRU had money to spare for the primary function of the Scotland National Team instead of projects of limited value, no doubt this problem would have been resolved long ago: the Pizza is the same size no matter how many slices.
      On the other hand Organise a Picnic event for Squad and family in a park somewhere and do the training anyway, they could hire the Edinburgh ground for the social event, what are PRL going to do, sack their players, that’s cutting their nose of to spite their face.
      Call their bluff and have a family day and hire the Stadium.

  5. Can this not be classified as unfair restrictions on trade (i.e. restrictive practice) as both the PRL and SRU are legal financial businesses, even if they have charity status?

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  6. Sounds like an insurance thing maybe.

    On the plus side, sounds like a great experience for Richie Simpson.

  7. That would be the £10m that RFU pay for access to the England players.

    I can’t imagine what it is that PRL are seeking here. No it’s a complete mystery why a private company would be playing hard ball.

    Or perhaps Scottish Rugby can match the salaries these players get playing in England? Problem solved.

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    • We’re not the far behind the English clubs regarding salaries bar the top few players, our two pro teams are very well funded. However from a Scottish point of view the more players we can have playing out with Scotland the better. The players experience a different environment, different challenges and it also in the long term will create more places at Edinburgh and Glasgow for young developing players to come through.

  8. Im with GT on this one. Sounds ridiculous and sketchy. It’ll come to the point of just focusing on developing and playing home based players with priority. Other nations do that….maybe it’s time to start doing that also if we are looking to change the whole pathway system maybe this is just how it has to be. Obviously at the expense of losing some talent…but maybe it’ll make them think harder about the consequences of leaving and the rulings of their desired league system.

    • RuggersB it reads as if you’re suggesting that only Scottish based players should be picked. That’s the policy that is strangling Welsh – and to a certain degree English – rugby at the moment.
      With only 2 pro teams we would only limit ourselves further in an already small playing pool.
      Let the top players go abroad and better themselves (and the national team) and create opportunities for
      developing players at home
      Just change the rules from exclusive access to priority access for clubs if they have a game only

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    • @RuggersB. Professional rugby is a job, a “profession”, if you will 😉 . Would you like it if someone told you that in order to work at the highest level in a multi-national profession, that you could only work in Scotland and all other options of working elsewhere were not available to you, even if they might improve your ability or the ability to provide for your family?

      Imagine that and then add in that at any moment in your workday one of your colleagues might intentionally and possibly legally, hit you as hard as they can and banjax your entire career and that your earning potential would instantly disappear.

      Personally I think rugby players ought to be able to play where they feel they’ll get the best options without the penalty of not being available for selection for their country. The issue is with the PRL, not with the player’s choices or their pathway. Scotland’s current player pathway from age grade and club/region is also an issue of course.

  9. I mean, this isn’t new. Why would they make them available when they don’t have to, especially if they can be paid to otherwise do so?

    Being honest, the 6N needs to be at the end of the domestic season. It would work better for everyone.

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    • as Dom Ward says, the clubs get paid by RFU (via PRL negotiations) to release England players. It hasn’t been tested of course but it would be fun to see the PRL reaction if WRU or SRU offered similar inducement (which they have hinted in the past is what they- PRL -want).
      Meanwhile, lest not be taken in by the odd English club saying we would release Players but PRL is stopping us. The EP clubs ARE PRL. Every EP club signed up to PRL decision not to release players unless under a PRL deal.

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