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.
“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.”