Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has admitted that the Finn Russell rift which overshadowed the recent Six Nations could have been “handled better” but is confident the star stand-off will be keen to play for his country when rugby returns, writes Duncan Smith.
Townsend said he had been in conversations with the Racing 92 playmaker, who left the team hotel a fortnight before the start of the championship after a row following an alleged squad protocol breach.
“I’m not sure there’s one clear thing that stands out from it. These things are ongoing processes, and relationships are ongoing,” said the coach.
“It’s one incident we could have handled better but at the time the priority was we needed to get the team ready to play those games.
“We’ll reflect back on what I could have done better as a coach and whether we could have handled things better as a group, so that when we come back into camp next time we have everyone available for us.”
On how things have developed since the premature end to the international season due to the coronavirus crisis, Townsend said he believes Russell will be back in a Scotland jersey as soon as is achievable in the current climate.
“I would hope so. We’ll see,” he said. “I’m in more regular contact with the midfielders, the 10s and the centres, and he’s very much part of that group. We’ve had a few conversations over this period.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens when rugby does resume, but I’m sure he’ll be very much in our thoughts and let’s hope he’s keen to play.”
When Scotland will play again is the $64,000 question at the moment, with the general assumption that the July tour to South Africa and New Zealand is off. It is still hoped that the Six Nations can be completed, before November Tests against New Zealand, Argentina and Japan – potentially behind closed doors.
Asked when he thought Test rugby could return, Townsend replied: “It was two months ago that we were due to play Wales, so those weeks and months have passed pretty quickly. It’s unlikely we will be playing in July on the summer tour, given that our players haven’t trained for two months and won’t be back in training in the next days or weeks.
“Let’s hope they get to play as club players as soon as possible and international rugby whenever that is possible.”
There continue to be optimistic, some may say desperate moves to get rugby and sport in general back as soon as there is a sliver of opportunity, but there is a real possibility that the rest of the year could be a wipeout.
If things got that extreme, Townsend concedes that the 2020 Six Nations, with Scotland hoping to play their final match away in Wales, may have to be scratched.
“I think the fact it’s only one game for us, I know Ireland have got two games, but most countries have only got one game and if we can play them, that would be great [if it could be played],” said Townsend.
“It would be good to finish the Six Nations but if this delay goes on until 2021 then maybe the focus will be on next season’s Six Nations.
“We have played delayed games in the past. I remember playing Ireland in 2001 – they had three games remaining due to Foot and Mouth Disease. It’s not unique to be in this situation, so let’s hope we can play our game.”
The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa next summer is an afterthought right now. Townsend turned down the chance to go to
New Zealand in 2017 as an assistant backs coach as he had just taken on the Scotland job and had a summer tour to oversee.
He said: “It would be a huge privilege and honour to be involved with the Lions. I’m not sure if I’ll get asked after saying no last time, but it was different circumstances, with it being my first opportunity to coach Scotland.
“Everybody will be excited about the Lions this time next year – let’s hope we’ve had a full season of international rugby and everything is back to normal so we can have a good Lions series.”
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