Scotland star Finn Russell has spoken publicly for the first time about the breakdown of his relationship with national head coach Gregor Townsend.
The 27-year-old playmaker has not been involved in Scotland’s first two Six Nations games, the second of which was a 13-6 loss to England at a rain and windswept Murrayfield on Saturday, after what was alleged as a drinking session two weeks before the 19-12 defeat by Ireland in Dublin on the opening weekend.
Russell left the team hotel that Sunday evening and didn’t show up for training the next day. On returning to the camp on the Monday evening he was informed by Townsend he wouldn’t be considered for that match, and was told the same again the day after the loss in Ireland.
In an interview with The Sunday Times UK newspaper, Russell explained that the flashpoint in the hotel bar which has been widely speculated on over the last 21 days, and categorised by many as a ‘late night drinking session’, is not the crux of the issue.
He hinted at a longstanding rift between him and Townsend and confirmed he to won’t return to the Scotland set-up unless changes are made.
‘Eight years I’ve had him as a coach, and I don’t really know him at all,’ Russell said, referencing his time working with Townsend initially at Glasgow Warriors and then at Scotland since 2017 . ‘We’ve not got a personal relationship.’
‘With Racing, last year I couldn’t speak much to the coaches because my French wasn’t that good, but this year with Mike Prendergast I get on really well, I chat to him a lot and I’ve spoken to him a lot about this situation. It’s the same with head coach Laurent Travers and Yannick Nyanga.
‘It’s a much more personal relationship. It’s like it was with Scotland under Vern Cotter ]Townsend’s predecessor]. They treat you like an adult. After a game, they understand it’s your time to do what you need to. If you start coming in late for training or going out during the week, that’s when it’s a problem. This whole situation with Scotland has been made out to be about me wanting to have a drink, when in actual fact, it’s about control, respect and trust, on and off the pitch.
‘I want the best for Scotland and so I’ve questioned the environment to try and make it better. We [him and Townsend] have clashed quite a lot, him saying one thing and me saying another. It’s come to a point where I’m saying, “you can be you and I’m going to be me. That’s how this relationship is going to be.” Well, it’s not really a relationship.’
Russell apparently told Townsend during the weeks leading up to this Six Nations that he had doubts about his continued involvement, but after playing for Racing 92 in a Champions Cup match against Saracens at Allianz Park, he took an evening flight from Luton to Edinburgh with his family and his Scotland teammate Sean Maitland, who had been in the opposition that day, arriving in the nearby team hotel just before 9pm. The home-based contingent were already in camp, having played the day before.
Russell is part of Scotland’s leadership group, but in his absence the other members had apparently agreed that after a game, players would be allowed two beers each and that there would be a team night out after the Calcutta Cup match. Russell had ‘two beers with dinner’ and ‘ordered another one’, which is when things started to unravel and ultimately led to his exile.
‘The players at dinner were like, “no more drinking”. These are guys I know well, so I said, “what’s the problem, I’ve just played, I just want a couple of beers” and they said that’s what the leaders had agreed,’ he explained. ‘I’m part of the leaders group, but they’d had the meeting before I got there. I’d not had a say. So for me, straight away, it was set up pretty poorly.
‘On the Wednesday morning [before the Test against Ireland], Gregor sent me a text saying, “if you want to go back to Racing, you are free to do that from today. Let me know if you decide to go back”. For me, that text was, “you’re free to do what you want”. But from then, it’s all been, “Finn’s left camp to go back to Racing, Finn’s this, Finn’s that” when I’d said to Gregor, “if you want me here, I’m here. If you don’t, that [France] is where I need to be”. The way this has all been spun, I’m the guy who left camp, I’m the guy who had the late night drinking session, I’m the guy who’s done this and that. It could have been sorted in-house. I didn’t turn up on the Monday and that was my choice, but since then it’s been just like, “see you later Finn”.’
Russell says that he had no contact from Townsend or the SRU between 23 January until late last Sunday, when he received a call from Townsend to tell he was not being asked back into camp for the build-up to the England game.
Scotland next take on Italy in Rome in two weeks’ time.
Photo: Getty Images
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