Gregor Townsend says Finn Russell’s Scotland return depends on ‘living up to the team’s standards’

Scotland head coach has not been in contact with exiled stand-off since the player returned to Paris last Thursday morning

Gregor Townsend has spoken for the first time since the Finn Russell affair exploded last week.
Gregor Townsend has spoken for the first time since the Finn Russell affair exploded last week. Image: Fotosport / David Gibson

SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend says the return of Finn Russell to the Scotland fold will depend on his willingness to ‘live up to the team’s standards’.

Speaking publicly for the first time since news broke that the stand-off had left the Scotland camp following a fall-out in the team’s hotel bar last Sunday night, the coach refused to put a timeframe on Russell’s return, and confirmed that he has not been in contact with the player since it emerged that he had returned to Paris on Thursday morning rather than re-join the national team camp.

“It’s not really something that is, for us, the main focus just now,” said Townsend. “I had a long meeting with Finn on Monday to discuss all manner of things, first of all the consequence of his actions from leaving camp on Sunday night and not being there on Monday – it was a positive meeting, we left that meeting in a really good place, and at the time I thought he would be back in camp. It didn’t happen and we’ve moved on.


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“In terms of where we’re now as a team, we’ve got to prepare for Ireland and that’s the focus of the 34 we’ve got here [at the squad pre-Six Nations training camp] in Spain. We’ll see after the Ireland game and beyond what happens.

“The door is open for any player, whether it is a player returning from injury like Sam Skinner, or Matt Fagerson who just missed out on selection, or Darcy Graham because we are really disappointed for him that he got injured in the first day of training when he is in such good form, and Finn Russell would be likewise – but, obviously, he’s not unavailable because of injury but because of what went on and there’s got to be a link to where he would be in terms of being with the team.

“Is he able to live up to the standards expected of a Scotland team player? But the focus is so much on us preparing for Ireland that these are questions for a later time.

Asked if he had been in contact with Russell since Thursday morning, Townsend gave stated: “No”.

There has a been a lot of speculation about what exactly happened last Sunday night, and Townsend gave his own version of events as the first directly involved individual to speak on the record about the incident.

“I don’t know, really, all that happened because I was in a coach’s room until around 11.30 at night, but I did say hello to Finn when he arrived with Sean Maitland,” he explained. “During that time, Finn was drinking, and a couple of players had said to him to stop drinking. When I saw him around about a quarter to 12, he had decided to leave and his parents picked him up he left after about a five-minute conversation with me, and we didn’t see him until the following evening.

“In that two and a half hour meeting I had with him on Monday night, Finn was aware of the consequences of his actions and aware that he wouldn’t be involved in Ireland because of that. We had a really good conversation after that information was passed to him.

“[With] anybody who wants to come into the team, wants to put their hand up for selection, form is some of it, [and] ability, and also being able to be with the team and live up to those team standards – so that’s something that someone who is [either] out the team just now or in the team would have to agree to and accept.”


Opinion: Gregor Townsend should look across the Irish Sea for lessons in man-management

 

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1712 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.

13 Comments

  1. Not sure what else GT was supposed to do.The buck stops with him. The senior players group weren’t happy with FR but possibly don’t have any powers of punishment. FR didn’t set the heather alight against Ireland in last year’s 6 nations or in the world cup so I’m not sure he was automatic pick especially given AHs form right now so phsycologically could be a significant blow to Russell’s ego without a risk from the manager.

  2. It seems to me that if Townsend thought they left the meeting “in a really good place” he is a bad judge of the effects his words had on Russell. A conversation is a two way street and listening is just as important as talking. I wonder how much listening Townsend did? Some advice mt father gave me when I was a youth might benefit him. “Son God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth and you would do well to use them in that proportion” I am sad to say I think we have seen the last of Russell in a Scotland shirt

  3. The first rule of crisis PR – get your storey straight and stick to it. We now have the drip drip effect of different information coming out.

    This doesn’t look good for GT or FR.

    Should he have downtime after a hard game? Absolutely. Does that mean drinking at evening past 11.30? I think not.

    That the senior players tried to intervene and were rebuffed is probably a bigger issue.

  4. Interesting debate between Craig and Gordon. Unless you were there it is difficult to know exactly what happened. It does appear the Russel has fallen out with certain players within the squad who wanted him to stop drinking and he refused. His actions appear to indicate that he put himself ahead of the team. No player, no matter how talented, is greater than the team. Townsend does seem to have given him the opportunity to return to the fold. In terms of bridge building it is not Townsend that is the issue but his squad colleagues he has let down by his actions.

  5. Another Governance failure for me I am afraid.

    This has clearly been festering for a while.

    We had the Twickenham half-time and we followed it with a poor WC19, with plenty rumours of a split in the camp, and lots of post cup rancour.

    Finn out of sorts at WC, yet he is on fire with Racing.

    England and Ireland far more successful than us at WC19, both had reviews the outcomes of which were none to pleasant publicly for two very good coaches Jones and Schmidt.

    Yet we appear not to have had one.

    Why?

    We have clearly not moved on.

    Any review would have identified and lanced this boil, rather than let it burst at the start of the 6N.

    Wish we had the same form on the pitch as we had in governance failures.

    • Well said Keith. Fundamentally this is a man management and structural issue. These situations should be defused before it develops to the point of a public incident. If Townsend was in his room until 11:30 one asks why and where was the management team and captain / co-captains.

  6. Takeaways:
    – coach and players prepared throw Finn under the bus.
    – GT admits there is a conversation about other things.

    So clearly other issues here at play here. Given SRU and GT prepared to give their version of events publicly tarnishing his reputation (pretty poor really), Finn would be entitled to give his. The fact he has not up to this interview speaks better of him.

    Finn remains the most important player. This has been handled disastrously and without, as has been pointed out, any humour.

    So unimpressive. Do we have to root for Ireland so this mess is cleared up?

    • Gordon, I understand your frustrations – no-one’s happy here.

      You should know that Finn was the first to talk on the matter – you can find his quote here: https://twitter.com/SDM_Robertson/status/1221394464649904128

      Also, I really don’t think that either Finn or Gregor are being unprofessional here. They both clearly respect each other and the team, there’s no hint at a grudge. Gregor’s account is actually way better than I thought.

      From my understanding, it was the players who had an issue with Finn drinking late. Gregor spoke to him when he was leaving, and then they both had a positive conversation when he returned.

      Then Finn basically went back to France to play, and that’s that. Door’s still open if he comes back afterwards and commits to the team ethics.

      Personally, I’m a Scotland supporter beyond all else. If a player doesn’t live up to the team’s standards, they shouldn’t play. Period. If we base Scotland’s rugby around one player, we won’t get far. We need to focus everything around the team as a whole. That’s the focus. One player doesn’t win a tournament – one team does.

    • Craig I understand your view, but disagree:
      – FR refuses to comment on the issues/events in the article you cite, focusing only on advice to other players.
      – As stated in OffsideLine article this is the first interview from those involved.
      – Both are predated by SRU statement on Twitter of Friday – not agreed by both sides in advance – and comments on the matter to journalists.
      – The mantra you trot out about not focusing on individual circumstances is meaningless and naive. Of course you manage matters on a case by case basis where there is discretion. Here was the stand-off, form player, not in breach of any universal rule, two weeks ahead of the game, with a day off following Saracens match, with known other grievances. To bludgeon on about breach of ‘protocol’ and moreover not to seek to mend the relationship since at least Thursday remains pathetic.

      Sure others, particularly locks and centres, would agree on poor management.

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