Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations preparations were thrown into chaos as star stand-off Finn Russell left the national team training camp in Edinburgh and was ruled out of next week’s opener against Ireland.
The 27-year-old departed the camp at the Oriam facility at Heriot-Watt University west of Edinburgh, reportedly of his own accord, to return to his club Racing 92 in Paris.
A terse statement from Scottish Rugby said the player “will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp”.
It’s not yet known what the discipline breach was, but it’s hardly a secret that Russell has been a disaffected figure within the Scotland squad for almost a year.
He publicly questioned the tactics of head coach Gregor Townsend during last year’s Six Nations and was a frustrated presence during much of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, where his form was patchy.
Russell seemed to balk at the change in the team’s gameplan in 2019 which involved much more kicking designed to put pressure on the opposition. Scotland won just two tests out of eight against Tier One opposition during the year, earning a draw at Twickenham after being 31-0 down when Russell claimed to have argued with Townsend about the tactical approach in the dressing room at half-time.
His form for Scotland contrasted vividly with when he returned to play with Racing after Scotland exited the World Cup, where he has been an enthusiastic and creative element for the Paris club as they have reached the quarter finals of the Heineken Champions Cup as one of the top seeds.
Russell also has some underlying issues with the hierarchy at Murrayfield, with his father Keith having been fired from his position as Director of Domestic Rugby with Scottish Rugby in 2018 but successfully winning his case of unfair dismissal.
In that case Scottish Rugby CEO Mark Dodson was specifically criticised by the tribunal chairman for his actions during the dismissal and management practices in general.
Dodson has been in the news during the past week when Scottish Rugby’s accounts for 2019 were released showed his pay and bonuses amounted to nearly £1 million for the year.
If Russell has burned his bridges with the international team management by leaving the camp against team rules it’s hard to see how he could return unless there is a climbdown or a change in the current regime.
The player, who has 46 caps scoring 137 points in his Scotland career, is widely considered to be one of national team’s few points of difference on the pitch and one of the best 10s in World Rugby.
It will be a huge blow if he misses what is going to be a crucial championship for the national team and for Townsend, who is under pressure after the difficult 2019 campaign which included failure to reach the last eight in Japan.
The only other full-time stand-off in the camp is Adam Hastings, who at 23 has just 14 caps. Hastings has been in good form for Glasgow, but there is no real back-up beyond him for the pivotal 10 shirt, with Northampton’s Rory Hutchison, who last played regularly at the position when in Under-20s rugby, the possible alternative.
Scotland have yet to announce any further call-ups to the squad to cover Russell’s absence, but there are limited options. Pete Horne, again not a regular stand-off could get a recall with Worcester’s Duncan Weir the only other full-time 10 of any experience.