Scotland v France: Finn Russell conference call cancelled

On-going uncertainty over exiled stand-off's international future continues to be an unwelcome distraction to Scotland's Six Nations campaign

The Scotland squad are back in camp preparing to face France on Sunday. Image: © Craig Watson -
The Scotland squad are back in camp preparing to face France on Sunday. Image: © Craig Watson -

TWO steps forward, one step back. Like stubborn teenagers after a lover’s tiff, the process of healing the rift between exiled stand-off Finn Russell and Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend appears to have hit another bump in the road, with assistant coach Danny Wilson revealing earlier today [Tuesday] that a conference call involving the player and the coaching team did not go ahead as scheduled on Monday.

It emerged on Sunday that Russell and Townsend had positive dialogue last week, and while the player will not return for the final two games in this year’s Six Nations championship he was apparently ready to play his part in helping the team prepare for this weekend’s clash against France by dialling into a conference call to give his insights gained from playing for Racing 92 in the French Top 14 league.

It was believed that this was an important part of the rapprochement process which will hopefully lead to Russell being re-assimilated into the squad ahead of this summer’s tour to South Africa and New Zealand, but the two sides couldn’t make it happen.

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While one missed conference call does not mean that all bets are off, it does suggest that Russell and Townsend are still some distance away from being on the same page. It also means that the whole sorry saga continues to be an unhelpful distraction to Scotland’s Six Nations campaign.

“We had to change our timings yesterday, which didn’t work out for us to be able to fulfil it as a conference call, but there has been a fair bit of communication back and forth, which is obviously a real positive step,” said Wilson.

While the players did not reconvene in camp until Monday evening, the conference call with Russell was supposed to be earlier in the day. “Our coaching meeting changed from the original time – it was supposed to be earlier in the day and then it became later in the day – so, you would have to ask Gregor the ins and outs of that because he’s had the communication with Finn, not myself,” said Wilson.

Asked if there would be a conference call later in the week, Wilson said: “We’ve got a coach’s meeting after this, so we’ll probably find out. Again, Gregor has been in communication with Finn, as opposed to myself.

“Obviously, we trained today, and off the back of that we’ve got a big day’s training tomorrow when our game-plan will be installed a bit more, so there will hopefully be some more communication – but, yeah, it wasn’t done in the [conference call] format yesterday. It was done more through a one-on-one conversation with Gregor.

“It is between him [Townsend] and Finn, how they have been communicating back and forth, but the good thing about it is there is some positive communication which will hopefully lead to a long-term positive outcome in terms of Finn’s involvement.

“But I think that process will be ongoing at the beginning of this week, and hopefully there will be a little bit more information after today.

Pressed on whether he believed there would be further conversations later this week, Wilson replied: “Yes, I think so, I’m pretty positive about that – but I’ll find out for definite after this when we go into our coach’s meeting.”

The Shaun Edwards factor

While Scotland picked up a morale boosting win away to Italy last time out, there is no doubt that they face a significant step up this Sunday when they take on a Grand Slam chasing French side, who have managed to add some serious defensive resolve to their traditional Gallic flair.

“They’re in a good place,” acknowledged Wilson. “They’ve started the competition with momentum, which we know is key in the Six Nations. You get off to a winning start in the style they did, against the opposition they did, and then they’ve rolled into a place where they’re in good form.

“When you look at them in detail you are looking at a different France to what we’ve seen in the past, probably a little more pragmatic. Maybe the requirements of the Six Nations have led to that.

“With Shaun [Edwards] being involved they’ve clearly added a different sort of approach to their defence, where they go real hard at the breakdown, and off the back of that breakdown they will go real hard with line-speed. That’s a Shaun Edwards defence and, certainly, at the moment, you’re seeing that difference from them.”

Wilson worked with Edwards in a previous life. Before joining the Scotland set-up, he was head coach at Cardiff Blues, with Edwards contracted to one-day per week helping the Welsh region, so he is in no doubt just how effective a coach the former Rugby League man is, and is not in the least surprised at the immediate impact he has had in France.

“Shaun worked with us at the Blues for the final year that I was there,” said Wilson. “He was in on a part-time basis while he was with Wales, so I really got to know him and his methods really well. He’s a world-class coach who keeps things very simple, which from a player’s point of view allows them to really buy into things when they are really fatigued and under pressure.

“Working with Shaun does give me an insight into the very specific philosophy that he sticks to. We’ve seen over the years the results that come off the back of that and I know it will be the same when we play them. So, you know what’s coming, but it’s still very effective.

“Defence is quite technical but the difference with defence is that you can lay down some foundations very quickly,” he continued. “Shaun would talk a lot about how his systems would take care of the rest, so we’d look at two or three things from the opposition and his system would take care of the rest.

“It would be about repeating the system when under pressure and fatigued. There’s such a short time to prepare in the Six Nations so they won’t always get that right, but on the whole what I’ve always found with Shaun is that he keeps things pretty succinct and pretty straightforward. There’s not much ambiguity, he’s pretty black and white.

“He’s a brilliant bloke. I have a really good relationship with him, and I stay in contact with him. I’m sure I’ll catch up with him before the game. If not, we will definitely talk afterwards.

“He’s a hard taskmaster, very strong in his views and his opinions. He has standards that need to be upheld but I really enjoyed working with him. I learned a huge amount from the way he approaches the game generally and how the game comes back to defence.”

Super6: Watsonians versus Southern Knights match rescheduled for this Friday

About David Barnes 4012 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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.


  1. This is a bit of a “nothing to report” article. However, the next two games are a must win for Townsend. If not his head will be called for by the fans. Since 2017 when he took over we have fared worse than we did with Vern Cotter in competitive games. We’ve conceded the same average points as we have scored, near enough as to not make a difference and now all of this utter nonsense.

    In the last 20 years we have no grand slams, no triple crowns, 4 Calcutta cups, 4 Centenary Quaichs and had four wooden spoons in the Six nations. The only team with more wooden spoons are Ireland (there last in 98), with Italy 3rd on 14.

    The real question is…what IS going to turn the tide for Scotland and make us into a championship winning side?

    I certainly don’t have the answer…but I do know this. There is too much negative noise caused by the SRU and its staff…this needs to end.

    • Actually, I wished for Townsend’s head after the first World Cup game. Nothing has improved since. I have pointed out before that the historical reasons in respect of the importance of playing for Scotland and the Lions no longer obtain. Finn Russell is perhaps in the best place he will ever be, earning money, playing well, loved by fans. The last thing he needs is to wear a blue jersey on condition that he plays the way he is told to play by Townsend, who was not ever half as good a player.

  2. There now seems to be a serious rift between the two people at the centre of this farce. The root of this seems to go back to the 2019 6N England game , where the Townsend game plan left us 7/31 down at 1/2 time and the Finn Game plane got us to 38/31 up till the last minute. In the end analysis if you are supposed to manage the team and the men in that team , to get the best out of them to keep them happy and on board with the team aims , then Townsend has clearly failed his main task , that is man management. To me it is Townsend who is risking all. If his team loses the remaining two games , then he is risking his position over what was really nothing worthy of the damage this has done to the team. A rugby player has a few drinks , now that’s novel is it not. This should have been settled with a fine not sending the player home like a naughty school boy in an attempt to humiliate him.

    • It’s been shown many times that the game plan didn’t change at Twickenham in the second half. In fact, Russell kicked more.

    • But not turning up to training was wrong, unless he was so hungover; and speaking from experience you have to get stuck into a serious session for that to happen and there has been no suggestion of that.

      No a few beers especially when exiled in foreign parts after his Saracens game is understandable, not making training the next day is not the way to treat your team mates.

    • The primary fault in this incident is not turning up to training, that is wrong, unless he was so hungover; and speaking from experience you have to get stuck into a serious session for that to happen and there has been no suggestion of that.

      No a few beers especially when exiled in foreign parts after his Saracens game is understandable, not making training the next day is not the way to treat your team mates.

  3. I had a conference call cancelled the other day as well but didn’t want to read too much into it, based on this article I should probably reconsider that view.

    • Not my place to give advice, but I would think about reading more into it of you have been off work for the last month during the most important part of the business’ year following a massive fall out with senior colleagues, and have then taken part in a very public spat with your boss in the national press, and journalists were then briefed that this call was an important step to mending your fractured relationship.

    • He has a well paid day job which he’s not missed. Look there’s a lot of good stuff in the article, it’s more a dig at the tone, concerned it was leaning towards something akin to a red top. It looks like timings were changed and they couldn’t make it work, I’m sure they’ll reconvene at a later date and get this sorted, fingers crossed.

  4. Sounds like Toony did not fancy a lecture from Finn on how to beat the Frogs. 2 years ago Finn got the shepherds crook with about 30 to go and was replaced by Laidlaw who kicked us to victory. This is a different France…………..or is it?

  5. It doesn’t sound like a big deal this time, as Townsend and Russell have spoken and a meeting had to be rescheduled. That Townsend and Russell have spoken is a step in the right direction, but the most important thing is Sunday’s game.

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