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'If he has picked on form, f*** me it was a great 20 minutes'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Former Scotland second row Jim Hamilton and ex-England out-half Andy Goode have engaged in a lengthy discussion about the controversial decision taken by Gregor Townsend to omit Finn Russell from his squad for the Scots’ upcoming four-game Autumn Nations Series. Russell wouldn’t have been available for selection for this Saturday’s opener against Australia as the October 29 fixture falls outside the player release window governing players based outside their country.


However, he would have been available for the following three matches against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina, but Townsend opted to select elsewhere. Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson were his three preferred picks last Wednesday but the coach’s claim that he had picked on form riled Goode during the latest Rugby Pod show he co-hosts with Hamilton.

While Kinghorn and Hastings have been busy this season with Edinburgh and Gloucester respectively, Thompson has managed just a single appearance off the Glasgow bench – a 20-minute run in their October 15 defeat at the Sharks in Durban. Contrast that to Russell going out and ripping it up last weekend for Racing in the Top 14.

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With the form explanation not stacking up, Goode took aim at Townsend for what he said about his Scotland squad selection decision and called on the coach to come clean on the reason for the exclusion of Russell, that if it is due to an ongoing issue with the out-half going out for a drink after the round four Six Nations games last March then come out and say so rather than create a smokescreen story that his choice was down to form.

Hamilton kicked off the Russell discussion, which then went on to take in the other major Townsend decision – taking the captaincy away from Stuart Hogg and giving it to Jamie Ritchie. Here is how the Hamilton-Goode debate unfolded:

Hamilton: “Business is business, sport is business, you have to remove the emotional attachment. That is one thing that I always valued in you (Goode), respected you in that. So I have got an opinion on Finn and I find myself evolving my thought process around it. Me and Finn are mates, I like the man, I love the humour that lives behind the player. We were messaging on Saturday night but not about the rugby.


“I don’t really want to ask him too much about it because I think I know the answer so I don’t want him to tell me and then it gets out in the public domain and he has only told me. I don’t want to spill the beans. But the big thing for me is you have to ask yourself if he doesn’t want to play, if he doesn’t want to come into the squad and fall in line with what the coach wants, then he has given Gregor no other option, has he not?

“We are all at the minute having a go at Gregor, how’s Finn not playing, he is the best player of our generation, which I’m agreeing with. That is the general consensus but there is a part of me – and this is the evolution of the mind and I want to sit on it a bit more – if Finn doesn’t want to be there, then why isn’t a coach pushing everything to try and make him happy and whatever? I think he should, but I am asking you that.”

Goode: “There are different ways of looking at it. First and foremost, we in the press and on podcasts or the general public, we can only go on what we have been told by Gregor who has picked the team. So Gregor to me, and this is where I have a problem with it, he said he has picked on form.

“So he has picked three fly-halves and has picked on form and said Finn needs to work on his game at Racing and find some form. So he has picked Blair Kinghorn, okay we know there is a push for Blair. There is a World Cup coming up, Blair is a very adaptable player, he can play on the wing, he can play full-back, he can play ten. They are trying to shoehorn him into playing ten as well.


“Adam Hastings has been in brilliant form for Gloucester and should be in the squad. And then he has picked Ross Thompson from Glasgow who has played about 20 minutes of rugby this season which, if he has picked on form, f*** me it was a great 20 minutes. I don’t want to do the lad a disservice but this is where in the press you find out things. He [Townsend] said it is on form but it’s obviously not on form because Ross Thompson can’t be picked on form.

“You can say I picked Blair Kinghorn and I picked Adam Hastings on form and I picked Ross Thompson as someone we want to develop; Finn, go away and work on your form. If that’s the truth that is understandable because that is the coach’s prerogative and his position but to say you have picked on form and you have not picked Finn?

“Okay, he ripped it up on Saturday for Racing if you watch the game, absolutely carved up. For me, he is Scotland’s greatest player. The different issue, which I think you are alluding to Jim, is let’s hear it, if that is the problem where Finn doesn’t want to go and play for Scotland in that environment then Gregor should just come out and say it.


“Because unless he changes his way to fit into what the coach wants, then Finn if he is behaving in a certain way that doesn’t suit the coach and the squad, he either changes or he doesn’t get picked and people need to know that. Otherwise, people make decisions based on what he is saying, on form, and then it is a ridiculous decision to be picking Ross Thompson ahead of Finn Russell, Scotland’s greatest ever fly-half, on form.

“I do understand the need for there to be different personalities within a group and not everyone is going to be the same in rugby so you have to have some players that need an arm around them, some players you need to tell them they are the best player in the world and they will go and perform for you.

“And there are some players, and sometimes this was me, some players want an absolute rollicking to get the best out of them. So certain coaches could give you a rollicking and then you are like, ‘I’ll prove that f***er wrong’ and that is your attitude whereas other players really get uplifted by having a coach on their back all the time and that improves their training standards, that improves their play and they become better players for it.

“The art of coaching is understanding how to treat and get the best out of every individual within a team environment and you can clearly see there is an issue between Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend. Some people have said he [his partner] is having a baby, he is not available for the first game because it is outside the Test window, but I think he [Townsend] has created a big headache for himself.

“Finn has done what Finn can do, he has gone off and performed last weekend, he has done ridiculously well for Racing. You watch the snippets from his game, he is on fire. Scotland aren’t good enough in my opinion, and this might sound harsh – Scotland aren’t good enough as a team to not pick one of their best players in Finn Russell in the squad.

“We were in Dubai last year after the Six Nations in Nobu having a load of food, having a load of drink, he loves playing for Scotland so I don’t think it’s that. There is obviously some issue between him and Gregor Townsend and until it gets fixed, we have seen it before where he got kicked out of the squad for having three beers, not two, and that’s the issue really.

“So Gregor has just got to be honest and say if you don’t want to pick him don’t pick him but let’s not put a smokescreen up and say it is on form when you have picked someone that has played 20 minutes.”

The conversation on The Rugby Pod now switched to the other major Scotland squad story, the decision by Townsend to take the captaincy off Hogg and award it to back-rower Ritchie.

Hamilton: “You look at the back end of the Six Nations, there was something clearly not right in the squad. I always said when Stuart was picked, when a back was picked as captain, I’m old school, I’m a traditionalist with that, I love seeing a forward as captain. But naturally with Stuart, he is a mate, I want to see him as captain.

“People don’t like the fact that I say he is one of the greatest players if not the greatest player to have ever played for Scotland. He is a three-time British and Irish Lion and he is one of the greatest players we have ever had if not the best player, so therefore you can see why he was made captain and then there is my emotion around why he should stay as captain.

“Now that I have had time to digest it, I go back to the old school in me and I like a forward as captain. Jamie Ritchie for me is a guaranteed starter when fit and it maybe it frees Stuart up. Not that he needed a rocket up his arse, but maybe he needed a leveller, something to give him another boost because he has played a lot of rugby. There is a lot of pressure on him.

“If it is to do with something that happened at the end of the Six Nations then that ain’t great but if there are other reasons around it, if he is going to be better without being captain and he needs something to spur him on a little bit more, I don’t know, well then it is a positive thing.

“You can only go based on what Stuart said. He put some stuff on Instagram and Twitter, I don’t think it was a tagline of ‘I support Jamie Ritchie and I want to play for my country’, I think he genuinely believes that and he wants to find the form that makes him one of the best players in the world when he is on form.

“Having that release of his captaincy will do that for him, and a big shout out to Jamie Ritchie. He is a great captain but the worry is that we are a year out from a World Cup and we have now got a new captain, we don’t know why the ten is, I don’t know. This is a Scotland way of life it seems.”

Goode: “I have heard and this is just a rumour that it was off the back of after the Italy game when a few of them went out for a few beers and then Finn got dropped – I just wonder if Gregor Townsend has changed the captain because he is still holding a grudge about that? Who knows where the line is? You are either told you can’t drink and then if you cross the line you’re wrong, or you’re told nothing and therefore to the cowsheds and back you are drinking.”


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