Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend issued a “hands-off” warning in the strongest possible terms yesterday after reports that his star stand-off Finn
Russell has attracted the interest of a number of clubs despite having a year and a half on his contract.
Townsend expressed disappointment that at least four teams – understood to be Bath, Gloucester, Toulon
and Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s next destination Montpellier – are believed to have been circling following a string of sensational performances
by Russell this season.
Townsend called for the sport’s governing body to crack down on behaviour he believes to be contrary to the “morality” of rugby.
“If clubs are speaking to our players when they have still got 18 months of contract left it is not right,” he said. “If what has been said is correct and four clubs are interested then World Rugby has to do something about it.”
The global “regulation 4” regarding player contact does not specify any time restraint, though domestic
leagues can instigate their own understanding between member clubs, but stresses that contact should be made through proper channels – in this case the SRU. Townsend continued: “There have been a number of developments in the game, where before there was much more understanding, comprehension, morality in terms of not speaking to players until they got to the last year of their contract, six months in the case of the Aviva Premiership.”
Townsend revealed that Racing 92 had approached Leone Nakarawa on the day of their Champions Cup game last season when he still had more than a year left on his deal. Ultimately the Fijian lock was allowed to join the Parisian side for a fee.
“Now this is not right. If one of our players is being spoken to about clubs when they clearly have 18 months of their contract left it is clearly not right,” added the coach. “We want to retain our players. Finn will be a Glasgow player for the next season and a half. He is contracted here.
“World Rugby need to start dealing with this. You go to the club and ask ‘is this player in contract?’, ‘is it the last few months?’ ‘Is it another year?’ You don’t speak to the individual. I can only go on what is being speculated in the media if this is happening. If it is it is wrong.”
The strength of Townsend’s words made clear that this was more than media speculation, of course, and he did admit that he had spoken to Russell, who returns to the Warriors’ starting line-up for tonight’s Guinness Pro12 match against Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun, about the situation, but said: “I would prefer to keep that conversation in house.
“He is aware he is contracted here and it is up to us to get the best out of him when he is still at the club and contribute to the club doing well which is what he is doing.
“We have seen improvement and there is a lot more improvement to come.”
If a club was to come and make a proper approach Townsend insisted that they would be firmly told that “he is not available”.
Russell was already regarded as a highly promising young talent but his stock has rocketed in recent months with sparkling displays for club and country, specifically the double-header against Racing 92 in which he outclassed the great Dan Carter.
Townsend, of course, takes over as Scotland coach at the end of the season and agreed that Russell’s nationality made him a different case from Nakarawa.
“Obviously, the Scotland perspective is massively important. You get managed and rested appropriately,” he said.
“Leone left for Racing. We allowed him to leave but that situation was wrong as well. A player being approached the day of the game by the opposition in a Champions Cup game in the hotel before we played that team, and then the coaching staff speaking to that player after we play them is wrong.
“Clubs will do it to destabilise situations for that player. But we made the decision that Leone can leave.
“For Finn and any other number of players who have got 18 months to go on a contract, and we are dealing with Finn, he will be a Glasgow player for that period.”