Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has spoken publicly for the first time after he was ousted from the squad for a ‘breach of team protocol’ in January.
The pivot, who is considered one of the best playmakers in Europe, revealed how he and head coach Gregor Townsend “have clashed quite a lot” over the years.
Townsend was the person who gave Russell his opportunity in professional rugby with Glasgow Warriors and they combined to help the Scottish outfit to the PRO12 title in 2015.
However, the Racing 92 player told the Sunday Times newspaper that their relationship has regularly been strained, which was a factor in his omission from the group.
“Eight years I’ve had him as a coach, and I don’t really know him at all,” Russell said. “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 (Irish backs and attack coach) 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 Toto (head coach Laurent Travers) and (director of rugby) Yannick Nyanga.
“It’s a much more personal relationship. It’s like it was with Scotland under Vern (Cotter). When we’re training and playing, they’re my coaches, but with that we can have a good, honest chat and blether away like you would with family and friends.
“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.”
Fascinating, if grim, stuff from Finn Russell. Power play from the fly-half. Effectively saying ‘it’s me or Gregor’. https://t.co/3BcKhASLDR
— Tom English (@TEnglishSport) February 9, 2020
Last season, a Russell-inspired Scotland came from 31-0 down to claim a remarkable draw against England at Twickenham to retain the Calcutta Cup – a trophy they duly lost on Saturday.
The fly-half, who produced one of his best ever 40 minutes, stated post-match that the comeback was partially sparked by a clash with Townsend at the interval.
That is evidently not the first, or last, time the two have not seen eye-to-eye and the 27-year-old insists that he has a number of concerns around the set-up under the current boss.
“A lot our game plan last year revolved around stats and kicking, and for me that’s not rugby,” he said. “Just play the game. Under Vern, it was a very simple game plan but you could play anything off it. Some of the (Scotland) meetings last year, it was like, ‘what are (we) actually trying to do here?’
“It’s hard for the other boys to say anything. They’re contracted to the SRU. I know that’s also been the case (with what’s been said publicly) in the last couple of weeks. They’ve been building up to games, and (team) media (activity) these days is so controlled.”
Russell also explained the incident which led to his expulsion; an alleged late-night drinking session which saw him disregard team orders.
He said: “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.
“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.
“It refreshed all the memories about the environment. I’ve just played a game, my 13th in a row, flown straight up and it’s the exact same. I’ve spoken to Gregor two weeks beforehand to tell him how I was feeling and not heard back for 10 days. What’s going on?
From spending a few hours with Finn Russell in midweek, I would vigorously contest any idea he’s skipped off without a backwards glance. The situation is clearly causing him a lot of angst – the frustration and sadness were obvious 1/3
— Mark Palmer (@MarkPalmerST) February 9, 2020
“It’s also the case that a night out after England is fine for the boys employed by the SRU who will have that next week off, but me and some of the other boys will be back to play for our clubs. I know it can’t be changed for one person, but at least if we get a say at the time, we can come to an agreement. Again, though, it’s not about drink, it’s about the whole environment.”
Despite the potential to be criticised, Russell has no qualms about speaking out both publicly and privately on the issues he sees with Scottish rugby.
“I need to do what makes me happy and makes me play my best rugby,” the fly-half added. “People can see the scenario as they want. But I need to do this for myself. It’s over a year I’ve been doing it for the country and for the fans. Before the last Six Nations, I was thinking the same. This is about me being honest and staying true to myself.
“People might not think it’s the right thing to do, but for me I believe it is. I believe we need change, it needs to move in a different route. We’re tracking along a road and it’s not been working for us, and it’s especially not been working for me.”