May 14, 2020 / 3:39 PM / 20 days ago

Lockdown gives Scotland coach time to mend fences with Russell

GLASGOW (Reuters) - The impasse between Scotland coach Gregor Townsend and flyhalf Finn Russell is a thing of the past as the pair have used the novel coronavirus lockdown to work on their relationship.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Scotland v France - BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Britain - March 8, 2020 Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend before the match Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/File Photo

Russell was dropped on the eve of January’s Six Nations opener in Ireland and sat out three subsequent matches after what Scottish Rugby called “a breach of team protocol”, with British media reporting he missed training after a night out.

The French-based outside half, with a reputation for freakish flair and match-winning ability, then said he had no relationship with Townsend, despite eight years working with him, and that a return to the team was unlikely.

But Russell later softened his stance and Townsend then confirmed on Thursday that the 27-year-old would be available for selection when Scotland next play.

With international rugby’s immediate plans in disarray because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not clear when that will be, although it had been planned for Russell to return for tests in South Africa and New Zealand in July.

They have not yet been postponed but Townsend conceded in a video news conference that they were unlikely to go ahead.

He also said he had spoken to Russell repeatedly by telephone during the lockdown.

DOORS OPEN

“Players and coaches sometimes don’t have relationships that are the same all the way through,” said the Scotland coach.

“You have highs and low and periods where you don’t understand them and they don’t understand you, but the important thing is that we leave doors open and also make an effort to connect and build relationships.

“We want everyone available for us and are gutted when a player is injured or misses a chance to play. We want everybody engaged and available to play for Scotland because it’s a massive thing in their lives.

Townsend said he hoped the relationship was better for all the drama. “That’s what I hope for with any player, including Finn.”

Scotland lost to Ireland and England in their opening Six Nations encounters but rallied to win in Italy and then beat France without the enigmatic Russell in their lineup before their final game of the 2020 tournament in Wales was postponed.

“There was an improvement from game to game, a learning of how to get better. Whether that would have been the same or better if the (Russell) incident hadn’t happened you can only speculate,” Townsend added.

Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris

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