Townsend angry at being denied players for Scotland Six Nations training camps

<span>Finn Russell was among the players Gregor Townsend was deprived of at the training camp.</span><span>Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA</span>
Finn Russell was among the players Gregor Townsend was deprived of at the training camp.Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Scotland’s head coach, Gregor Townsend, has vented intense frustration at being deprived of five key players, including his co-captain Finn Russell, during team training camps in the fallow weeks of this year’s Six Nations.

Russell was forced to skip international training in the week before Scotland’s win against England, and will likely have to do the same again before their next match against Italy, even though his club side, Bath, do not have any fixtures scheduled in the period, or any training sessions arranged during the off week.

Russell’s English clubmates, meanwhile, are free to attend England’s training camp before their match against Ireland because of an agreement with the Rugby Football Union. Townsend described the situation as “absolutely ludicrous”.

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Townsend had resisted the temptation to bring it up before the England game, but made a point of raising it after. “We didn’t have the best preparation,” he said.

“Going into this game England had double the amount of it we did, because our English-based players aren’t allowed to train with us even though there are no games in the English Premiership, and even though the clubs are all off for a week. It is a really unfair disadvantage that we have, and I don’t think it is right for the competition’s overall integrity.”

Whereas England were able to have four training sessions with their full squad in the past fortnight, Scotland had to make do with two. Russell, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Andy Christie, Cam Redpath were unavailable for half that time because they play for English clubs. Scotland were forced to train with their rookie fly-half Richie Simpson filling in for Russell.

“It’s a credit to the players to go into that game today just on the back of two sessions and deliver that performance,” Townsend said. “But I really wish this situation was better, because it’s not right.”

Scotland have been lobbying for their players to be released. Townsend says that the English clubs have indicated to him that they are keen for the players to be able to train with the national team, and that the blockage is with Premiership Rugby, which says it is following the rules set by World Rugby. The various parties have not reached an agreement on the compensation arrangements needed for the players to be released, which were supposed to be fixed last year. While that is up in the air, the situation is unlikely to change.

“I don’t think they’ll make the change next week for Italy, and if they do, then it becomes even more disappointing that they didn’t do it this week, too,” Townsend said.

“Normally the regulation is that we can only take players from outside Scotland when there is an international week of training arranged, and that is to stop players missing club games, but when there is no club competition it doesn’t make any sense that you’re still not allowing a player to travel up from Bath or wherever. The players could be spending time with their families and helping us prepare.”

Instead they will be twiddling their thumbs. “It’s about the connection time out on the training field,” Townsend said. “We don’t get a huge amount of time and the fallow weeks allow teams to get two quality sessions in.”

Given that Scotland play Italy next, they should get away with it, although Townsend is, understandably, not taking it for granted, and said his team would need to improve their defence in particular. Consider it a sign of changing times that Scotland can still find so much to worry over when they have beaten England by nine.