Deal struck for Scotland’s English-based players to be released for France game

Gregor Townsend has been given the green light to field his strongest team against France in Friday’s Six Nations finale.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. Picture: Craig Williamson / SNS
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. Picture: Craig Williamson / SNS

There were fears that the Scotland players based in England would not be released for the rearranged match because it falls outside the international window.

However, a deal has been struck with PRL Limited, the umbrella group that represents England’s top clubs, which would free the likes of Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Chris Harris to face the French in Paris.

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A statement from the tournament organisers last night said: “Six Nations Rugby are pleased to confirm that an agreement has been reached with Premiership Rugby for the release of Scottish players for the final rescheduled fixture of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, France v Scotland.

“Six Nations and Scottish Rugby would like to take this opportunity to thank all PRL club owners for their understanding and co-operation in these exceptional Covid affected circumstances.”

Speaking to the media immediately after Scotland’s 52-10 victory over Italy at BT Murrayfield, head coach Townsend had been anticipating the good news.

“I’ve just been told the negotiations are coming to an end,” said the Scotland coach.

“There’s going to be a positive outcome which is great to hear.

“Thanks to the parties involved, Scottish Rugby, the Six Nations and the PRL, that we can get to this situation where we'll have a strong squad – as strong as we can have – going to Paris, which is a really important game for us and the tournament.”

France need to beat Scotland with a four-try bonus point and by a margin of at least 21 points to win the Six Nations title. The Scots can still finish second if they beat France by eight points and deny them a bonus point.

The match was originally due to be played on February 28 but was postponed three days beforehand because of an outbreak of Covid-19 in the French camp.

The rearranged date was only confirmed on Thursday evening, sparking fears that the Scotland squad members based in England and France would not be released for the fixture. There are scheduled league matches in both the Gallagher Premiership and French Top 14 next weekend.

However, Racing 92 on Friday announced that they would release Finn Russell to play against France and now the English clubs have followed suit.

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Townsend had said that it was vital for the integrity of the Six Nations Championship that Scotland played France with a full squad. That will now happen, with financial compensation paid to the English clubs.

“It shows we can work together and find a solution,” added Townsend.

“I’m sure there were compromises and understanding from both parties. I’m sure there’s been some financial contributions as well.

“But it’s great we can have our players for this massive game next week.”

Scotland have not won in Paris since 1999 but will go into the game in good heart after scoring eight tries against Italy. It was their biggest win in Five/Six Nations history and was achieved with a much-changed team, with first starts for scrum-half Scott Steele and hooker Dave Cherry. Both men were among the tries, with Cherry scoring two.

“We knew it would be a challenge given it’s a brand new team, players starting for their country for the first time, some players starting in new positions for the first time,” said Townsend, who reported no new injuries.

“So to get that level of togetherness in that first half in particular was encouraging. To get the bonus point in the first half was probably above expectations.

“It’s an impressive result but we probably won’t be satisfied when we look back at the game on a couple of areas where we could have done better.

“We always strive to be close to our best and we know we could have taken a few more opportunities.”

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