‘It’s not right’: Gregor Townsend says Six Nations’ integrity is compromised by rule which disadvantages Scotland

Scotland were denied players in build-up to England match – and it will be the same for Italy test

Gregor Townsend believes the integrity of the Six Nations Championship is being compromised by a rule which prevents Scotland’s English-based players like Finn Russell from being allowed to train with the national squad during the tournament’s so-called “fallow weeks

The Scotland coach was able to have only two training sessions with his full squad ahead of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match while England had four. That is because he had no access to players from Gallagher Premiership clubs during the week after Scotland’s round two match with France. This is despite there being no top-flight league games in England during the Six Nations.

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As well as Bath’s Russell, Townsend was denied access to the likes of Cameron Redpath, also of Bath, Andy Christie (Saracens), Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs), Elliot Millar-Mills, Rory Hutchinson (both Northampton Saints) and Arron Reed (Sale Sharks). In the absence of Russell, Scotland’s co-captain, stand-off and attack leader, Townsend had to call up young Glasgow Warriors and Ayrshire Bulls player Richie Simpson to join the training sessions during the fallow week.

Scotland have been denied access to their English-based players like Finn Russell during the fallow weeks of the Six Nations Championship. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Scotland have been denied access to their English-based players like Finn Russell during the fallow weeks of the Six Nations Championship. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland have been denied access to their English-based players like Finn Russell during the fallow weeks of the Six Nations Championship. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“We don’t have the best preparation,” said the Scotland coach. “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; even though in this coming week clubs are off for a week.

“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. I’d imagine it’s going to be the same situation this time [going into the Italy match], which is a real disadvantage that we have. I don’t think it’s right for the competition’s overall integrity.”

Scotland, who beat England 30-21 at Murrayfield on Saturday, play Italy in Rome in round four on March 9. Townsend has been lobbying to have access to his English-based players during the fallow weeks and says their clubs have been amenable to the idea but he has been stymied by World Rugby’s “Regulation 9” which governs the release of players for international matches.

It states that unions “may only exercise the Right to Release pursuant to this Regulation 9 for five weeks out of the seven week period” during the Six Nations, thus preventing access to the English (and French) based players during the two fallow weeks which fall either side of the round three matches. Townsend is able to call up his Scottish-based players during this period because they come under the control of the SRU.

“There is apparently a bigger picture of player release, but the clubs have indicated to us that they want their players training with us, because there are no training sessions for them, or they are in the middle of a pre-season period,” added Townsend.

“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,” added Townsend. “It’s a credit to the players that they went into the England game after two sessions as a whole squad and delivered that performance.

“Regulation 9 is that we can only take players from outside of Scotland when there is an international week’s training. That is to stop players missing out on club games. But when there are no club competition, it doesn’t make any sense that you’re still not allowing a player to travel up from Bath or wherever.

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“They could be spending time with their families and helping our preparation. But we had to run with Richie Simpson at 10 for two sessions prior to the England game. He hasn’t played a game of pro rugby and he was playing inside Sione [Tuipulotu] and Huw Jones, outside George Horne. It’s not right and I really wish this situation was better because it’s not fair for our players.”

Unfortunately for Townsend, World Rugby’s view on the matter is that it’s down to individual unions to do deals as desired and this is only likely to change when the new global calendar comes in from 2026 and there are dedicated international and domestic windows. A spokesperson for the Six Nations said: “All international release is governed by World Rugby regulation nine.”

Premiership Rugby has a long-standing agreement with the RFU on player release which sees English clubs compensated and the body says it is bound by World Rugby regulations and unable to make ad hoc changes to accommodate the Scotland players.

A Premiership Rugby spokesman said: "Premiership Rugby can confirm the movement of players during the Guinness Six Nations fallow weeks as per World Rugby's Regulation 9 - Availability of Players. Premiership Rugby has a long-standing agreement with the RFU for the release of England players to prepare for Test matches.

"As per World Rugby’s Regulation 9, all International players are released for the Unions in the defined periods and then return to their Premiership clubs – as per previous campaigns. While a review of World Rugby Regulation 9 compensation is undertaken ahead of a new global calendar from 2026, Premiership Rugby will continue to adhere to the regulation as it stands."



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