Scotland coach Townsend ready for end of Russell exile

London (AFP) –


Scotland coach Gregor Townsend wants fly-half Finn Russell to make himself available for Test rugby again after their relationship broke down during the Six Nations.

Russell, a gifted playmaker as Townsend was during his on-field Scotland career, withdrew before the Championship started, citing a collapse in his dealings with the head coach.

But last month Russell, who plays his club rugby for Paris-based Racing 92, said he was ready to add to his tally of 49 caps.

And Townsend said Thursday he would have no qualms welcoming Russell back when rugby union resumes after shutting down due to the coronavirus, with Scotland's Six Nations finale against Wales in March postponed just the day before kick-off.

"We talked during the Six Nations, we talked after the Six Nations and we've been in regular contact during lockdown," Townsend told reporters during a conference call.

- 'Like a family' -

"Players and coaches sometimes don't have relationships that are the same all the way through.

"It's like being in a family, you have highs and lows, you have periods when you don't understand them and they don't understand you.

"The important thing is we leave the door open for players. We want everyone available for us... I'm sure Finn is very keen to be available for Scotland as we are with him."

Asked what he had talked about with Russell during their most recent discussions, Townsend said: "We had regular conversations about how he's getting on, what he's up to, conversations you have with any player.

"He's in a slightly different situation in Paris than some of our other players in Scotland.

"It's just making sure we have an open dialogue and making sure we are getting to know each other better."

Russell had been hoping to gain selection for Scotland's challenging July tour of South Africa and New Zealand, which is scheduled to include two Tests against the world champion Springboks and one with the All Blacks.

But Townsend said the spread of COVID-19 meant the three fixtures were unlikely to go ahead, amid speculation some of them could be rescheduled for later in the year as national unions, heavily reliant on Test-match revenue, try to avert a cash crisis.

"To take on South Africa in a two-match Test series doesn't come round very often, the fact they are world champions made it even more special," said Townsend.

"Then to go from those two game to New Zealand to play a team we've not played away from home since 2000 would have made it the best, most physically challenging tour I can ever remember.

"I know our players would be better for that experience. Maybe we will be able to play some of those games later.

"It's disappointing but pales into insignificance when compared to what the virus has done to people and businesses around the world."