Gregor Townsend has patched up his relationship with Finn Russell and now the Scotland coach hopes the stay-away stand-off’s tactical insight will help fill in the blanks as he prepares to shoot down France’s Grand Slam hopes.
A peace of sorts between the Dark Blues boss and his maverick playmaker has broken out after the disciplinary row which threatened Russell’s entire international future.
While he will now miss the remainder of the Guinness Six Nations campaign – including Sunday’s visit of the French to Murrayfield – the Racing 92 ace has offered up some crucial nuggets of information on the players he plays with and against in the Top 14.
And Townsend admits they will be crucial as he and his coaching staff look to upset Les Bleus’ bid for the clean sweep. “We don’t know the French as well as the other teams, we don’t play them on a regular basis in the PRO14, and the French have brought a number of new players into their squad.
“Conversations with players who are playing in France, people who have worked under Fabien Galthie in the past, and also having a former French international (Pieter de Villiers) on our coaching staff has certainly helped. It was good to have that contact to help us with our preparation.”
Russell was stood down from action ahead of the Scots’ championship opener amid allegations of a late-night drinking session and has also missed the subsequent clashes with England and Italy.
While Murrayfield chiefs have seemed to paint the issue as a disciplinary one, Russell insisted it runs much deeper after going public to reveal the extent of his breakdown in relations with Townsend.
However, progress was made last week by telephone when Russell agreed to help Townsend’s team in their preparations for this weekend, while further clear-the-air talks will take place after the tournament ends. But Townsend was in no mood to give the matter any further attention this week.
Asked if this week’s talks would allow his team to move on from an issue that has dominated Scotland’s championship, he snapped back: “That would be a good thing guys, wouldn’t it? We’ve got a game to prepare for this weekend and that’s all our focus, as it has been for all the games of the championship.”
Scotland had a mixed record against France during 2019, losing in Paris during the Six Nations before World Cup warm-up matches staged in Nice and Edinburgh saw the hosts on each occasion come out on top. However, with new coach Galthie in charge of a much-changed squad, Townsend will not spend much time reviewing last year’s clashes.
The head coach – who will hand hooker Fraser Brown his 50th cap on Sunday – said: “We know how good the French team are and how well we’ll have to play to beat them but we’ve prepared really well this week, and we’re up for that challenge.
“I hope we’ll be better than we did that day in Nice during the summer. Those two games in the summer are not the same as the Six Nations. They were the first games of the season, we didn’t play well in Nice and we made some changes the following week and played better.
“But we were still nowhere near where we are now in terms of the team playing together and training together. Six Nations is very different than summer Tests.
“Those warm-up games aren’t that relevant. In terms of players who have come into their team, Charles Ollivon for example had a great game against us in Nice, Antoine Dupont and Romain N’Tamack have played very well coming into the team this last year or two, certainly N’Tamack has.
“So we’ve got an idea what their threats as individuals are, from having played the last two years again, but much more relevant is the fact that they’ve changed their coaches.
“They’ve changed the philosophy on how they play, it’s a very different French team than the one we played in Paris 12 months ago, that’s for sure.”
SCOTLAND: S Hogg (Exeter, capt); S Maitland (Saracens), C Harris (Gloucester), S Johnson (Glasgow), B Kinghorn (Edinburgh); A Hastings (Glasgow), A Price (Glasgow); R Sutherland (Edinburgh), F Brown (Glasgow), Z Fagerson (Glasgow), S Cummings (Glasgow), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh), J Ritchie (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), N Haining (Edinburgh). Reps: S McInally (Edinburgh), A Dell (London Irish), W Nel (Edinburgh), S Skinner (Exeter), M Bradbury (Edinburgh), G Horne (Glasgow), D Weir (Worcester), K Steyn (Glasgow).
FRANCE: A Bouthier (Montpellier); D Penaud (Clermont Auvergne), V Vakatawa (Racing 92), A Vincent (Montpellier), G Fickou (Stade Francais); R Ntamack (Toulouse), A Dupont (Toulouse); J Poirot (Bordeaux-Begles), J Marchand (Toulouse), M Haouas (Montpellier), B Le Roux (Racing 92), P Willemse (Montpellier), F Cros (Toulouse), C Ollivon (Toulon, capt), G Alldritt (La Rochelle). Reps: C Chat (Racing 92), J-B Gros (Toulon), D Bamba (Lyon), R Taofifenua (Toulon), D Cretin (Lyon), B Serin (Toulon), M Jalibert (Bordeaux-Begles), T Ramos (Toulouse).
– Press Association
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