FRASER BROWN has insisted that the Scotland squad is settled and fully focussed on the challenge they face against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, despite key man Finn Russell having left the group after a fall-out in the team hotel bar a week past Sunday.
Russell was told the following day that as a consequence of the incident he would not be considered for the Six Nations opener this weekend, and rather than stay to work with the squad as they prepared for that game he decided to fly out to Paris on Thursday morning instead in order to return to action with his club side Racing 92 on Saturday afternoon.
It is now up in the air as to whether he will be involved at all during the remainder of the tournament, with head coach Gregor Townsend revealing earlier today [Monday] that there has been no communication himself and Russell since last Thursday.
Meanwhile, Adam Ashe, Russell’s former team-mate at Glasgow Warriors, posted a picture on Instagram earlier this evening of the stand-off apparently in a restaurant in Dubai.
“It’s one of those situations as a group of players where we know we maybe haven’t performed that well on the pitch over the last couple of years so all we wanted to do was all pull in the same direction, and it was unfortunate what happened last Sunday,” said Brown.
“We were pretty clear on what we wanted to do as a team off the pitch. There is a set of standards and a code we put in place which we want everyone to adhere to. It’s down to each individual to make sure they adhere to that and don’t let their team-mates down. They need to respect the sacrifices that everyone else puts in.”
Brown – who is a member of the senior player’s group – backed Adam Hastings to grab the opportunity to step out of Russell’s shadow and establish himself as front-line international stand-off in his own right.
“You can’t get away from the fact that Finn’s a quality rugby player, but we have someone like Adam who has been fantastic for Glasgow over the last month, and playing with him week-in and week-out I’ve been lucky enough to see the development in his game not just in the last month but also last season.
“He’s playing so well and is a much-improved communicator on the pitch. He knows how to organise his game and knows how to direct his team in the way he wants, and his kicking game has been brilliant. Adam is also such a dangerous attacker so we have plenty of quality operators in our squad.
“The focus for us from last week going on to this Saturday is about how we put the best team onto the park and how we produce our best rugby.”
The hooker added that he believes the tough few months the Scotland squad has endured since their early World Cup exit can have a galvanising effect. “The rhetoric can be a little negative sometimes around issues like this but we have pulled together really tightly as a group of players because we have new individuals come in but also because we’ve underperformed over the last couple of years so that expectation and drive has got to be there,” he said.
“You’ve got to be tight as a group off the pitch, you can’t expect to perform in pressurised environments on the pitch unless you’re all together, you’re all pulling in the same direction and you’ve all got each other’s backs. Our focus is this weekend and trying to drive our standards as a group and perform.
“The mood has been excellent, there are new faces in the camp and there’s a real enthusiasm both with those new players coming in and the new coaches,” added the hooker, who was speaking from the squad’s pre-tournament training base in Spain. “There has been a lot of new information to digest and that’s been taken on board really well by everyone.
“It’s been about guys wanting to learn, wanting to be back in here and wanting to put their hands up for selection. Both of the coaches who’ve come in [Steve Tandy in charge of defence and Pieter de Villiers overseeing scrummaging] have been really clear in saying what they want and of their expectations of both individuals and as a group.”
Brown also backed new captain Stuart Hogg’s contribution to the squad. “Stuart’s been brilliant, across the park,” he said. “From the first minute, he’s been really clear of the expectations he and the other leaders in the group want to drive.
“He’s been brilliant at sharing that load, too, and not letting it become a burden, so I think he’s been excellent at bringing other people with him.
“The type of guy that Stuart is, he’s very passionate about Scotland which is one of the most important things about leading your country. What he’s also got is that he’s a quality player, he’s one of the best players we’ve ever had, and having that ability alongside his passion it’s a great thing.
“Winning in Dublin would be a huge achievement for Scotland,” Brown added. “We’ve not had much, if any, success there over the last decade. It’s a difficult place to go and play, not just with Scotland but for the clubs, too.
“More importantly, if we could put a performance in place for 80 minutes that put us in a position to win, and we went on the next few weeks to back up that performance rather than doing it in a one-off game, that would be a real driver for us as a squad.”