Gregor Townsend angry at English rugby bosses over ruling which questions Six Nations ‘integrity’

Colin Newboult
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend ahead of Calcutta Cup clash with England in 2024.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend ahead of Calcutta Cup clash with England in 2024.

Gregor Townsend has hit out at Premiership Rugby who have denied Scotland access to his English-based players during the Six Nations fallow weeks.

The Scots did not have a full complement to choose from in training in the week after their Round Two clash against France due to World Rugby regulations and how the Test calendar is scheduled.

Premiership teams are not obliged to release their non-England players for international duty during the weeks which do not have any Six Nations games.

In most years, that would have been more understandable for Townsend, given that the English league season has run alongside the northern hemisphere’s flagship international tournament.

No Premiership matches

However, that is not the case in 2024, with the Premiership shutting down for seven weeks and not opening back up until the conclusion of the Six Nations.

That has drawn the ire of the Scotland head coach, who is frustrated that those players will miss valuable training sessions during the competition.

“We don’t have the best preparation. Going into the Calcutta Cup game, England had double the preparation because our English-based players aren’t allowed to train with us even though there are no Premiership games,” he said.

“And in this coming week, clubs are off for a week, but we’re still not allowed to have the likes of Finn Russell training with us this week.

“Two training sessions was all we had as a team going into the England game, where it would have been four if we’d had them in the week before.”

The PRL have always stood firm over the matter due to the deal they have in place with the Rugby Football Union, which gives Steve Borthwick access to the England players during fallow weeks.

They feel backing down and allowing other countries to have their English-based individuals would hamper that agreement, despite the clubs themselves being happy to release them for international training, according to Townsend.

It therefore gave the Red Rose an advantage heading into Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash, but it was Scotland who came out on top after claiming a 30-21 triumph.

However, the Scots will likely have to make do without some of their players yet again this week as they build towards the encounter with Italy on March 9.

“I’d imagine it’s going to be the same situation this time before Italy, which is a real disadvantage. I don’t think it’s right for the competition’s overall integrity,” Townsend said.

“We have been [battling against this ruling], but we’ve had no success over the last two weeks to get our players. The clubs have indicated to us that they want their players training with us, because there are no training sessions for them.

“There is no game in the Premiership for seven or eight weeks but we still can’t have our co-captain who has been lighting up the Premiership even come into camp for two days’ training.

“It’s a credit to the players they went into the England game after two sessions as a whole squad and delivered that performance. It’s not right and I really wish this situation was better because it’s not fair for our players. It comes from PRL {Premiership Rugby], so you can ask PRL.”

Scotland’s remaining games

Scotland got their Six Nations campaign back on track following their victory over England and they will seek to stay in title contention by defeating Italy in their fourth match.

They should have really been three from three, but a disappointing loss to France ended their hopes of winning a historic Grand Slam.

“We’ll always have something to play for in Dublin, because there’s a Triple Crown that’s now available. But the focus is on Rome and on playing well. We know we’re going to be tested by a very good Italian team who almost beat England,” Townsend added.

“They’re always hugely motivated for the Scotland game and they play a style of rugby in dry conditions which really tests defences. We have to be better than Saturday’s performance. We know that. That will be all our focus is on.”

READ MORE: Scotland v England: Finn Russell and Duhan van der Merwe capitalise on Red Rose errors as Calcutta Cup streak continues