Scotland coach Gregor Townsend says flyhalf Finn Russell can return if he adheres to the new standards of behaviour in the squad.
Russell has not been involved in Scotland’s first two Six Nations games against Ireland and England, after what was alleged as a drinking session two weeks before the loss to Ireland.
The 27-year-old 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 UK newspaper the Sunday Times, 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 that a rift that had developed between himself and Townsend and said he would not return to Test rugby unless changes were made to the Scotland set-up.
In a response to Russell’s comments, Townsend reaffirmed in a statement that the two have a good relationship and that Russell could return if he decides to follow the new squad standards.
‘We strive to create an environment for players to be at their absolute best when playing for Scotland,’ Townsend said. ‘To do that players must be aligned to the high standards of being involved in team sport at an elite level.
‘These standards are set out through feedback from players and staff and are driven by the player leadership group or the head coach at varying times during a campaign.
‘We have players who come from around a dozen different clubs and it’s really important they commit to an agreed standard of behaviour, which builds trust and is at the bedrock of a high-performance environment.
‘These standards don’t change for one player, even if that’s not what they experience in their club setting.
‘Our team leaders made the decision there would be no drinking after our opening match of the Six Nations and they have been working closely with me on improving other aspects of our environment.
‘I’ve loved working with Finn over the past seven years. In that time, I’ve coached him at Glasgow Warriors and with Scotland. He was one of my first signings in the academy at Glasgow. I had watched him train and play the previous season and thought there was a player of real potential. He’s been brilliant to coach at club and international level. He’s very coachable and I’ve worked with him in a very similar way throughout those seven years.
‘Finn left camp on the Sunday night because of a disagreement over alcohol with fellow players and chose to miss the following day’s [Monday] training and meetings. I arranged to meet with him that evening. It was a really positive meeting where we talked openly about life, rugby and what it means to play for Scotland.
‘I left that meeting, after almost three hours, really optimistic that Finn would play a major part in our environment and be a committed team member. Unfortunately, things have not unfolded as well as we would have hoped.
‘In the Six Nations and this season we are playing teams in the top five or six in the world and the effort, planning and standards that go into preparing people physically and mentally are really important, as are the bonds that bring people together and the trust that must be created within the group.
‘The door will be open to any player with the required level of ability – if they commit to being a trusted member of the team. It’s been made clear that Finn could be a part of that future. However, he stated at the weekend that everything else has to change for him to come back, rather than accept and adhere to the standards currently being lived by the group.’
The Six Nations takes a break this weekend. Scotland next travel to Rome to face Italy on 22 February.
Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport