Gregor Townsend insisted that Finn Russell had to confirm to squad standards if he was to return for Scotland while the camp suffered another crippling blow to their Six Nations campaign with star lock Jonny Gray ruled out for the rest of the tournament.
Gray, the 57-times capped second row, was not replaced during the Saturday’s 13-6 defeat to England but was well short of his usual tackle count in the game. After an assessment by the Scotland medical staff, he has been ruled out of the remaining three games of the championship and returned to Glasgow Warriors for “ongoing care and assessment” to a hand injury.
It’s just the latest blow to Scotland after an injury to star wing Darcy Graham and the ongoing saga concerned the absent Russell, which led to head coach Gregor Townsend releasing a further statement yesterday.
Russell was interviewed by the Sunday Times at the weekend claiming he had “no relationship” with Townsend and disputing the series of events at the start of training camp that led to him being omitted from the squad.
“The current situation, set-up and environment, I don’t think I want to play in that. I don’t think it’s good for me as a person or as a player,” Russell told the newspaper.
“I’d love to play for Scotland again because I love playing for my country. But until I see or feel the big changes that I need to get back playing my best, it’s going to be very hard for me to do it.”
Townsend addressed the issues in the article in a statement published on the SRU’s website, where he made reference to “high standards” set out for the squad, established by him and the player leadership group – of which Russell was a member.
“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,” read the head coach’s statement.
“These standards don’t change for one player, even if that’s not what they experience in their club setting.”
The head coach said he had “loved” working with Russell since the player had been one of his earliest signings for Glasgow Warriors’ academy.
“He’s been brilliant to coach at club and international level,” he continued. “He’s very coachable and I’ve worked with him in a very similar way throughout the 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 and 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.”
Playing for Scotland took total commitment, he continued, even when “everything is not always how you’d like it to be.”
“You might not agree with everything that is there, maybe because it’s a different coach than the one you have at club level or a different way of preparing or playing,” he continued. “What is important is that you commit to what has been agreed and put the best interests of the team first.
“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.
“I hope this situation can be resolved but our focus is on working with the squad and building on the positive work that’s gone in from the players for our first two games.”