Gregor Townsend accuses Premiership Rugby of ‘undermining integrity of the Six Nations’

Finn Russell takes on Jamie George

Gregor Townsend accused Premiership Rugby of undermining the integrity of the Six Nations by demanding the return of its Scotland stars during the competition’s fallow weeks.

Heading into the Calcutta Cup, Townsend claims that England received twice the training time that Scotland did after co-captain Finn Russell, flanker Andy Christie and centre Cameron Redpath returned to their Premiership teams during the first rest week despite the league being on a break.

That disruption did not prevent Scotland from recording their fourth consecutive victory over the Auld Enemy in their 30-21 win at Murrayfield, yet that did not temper the Scotland head coach’s frustration as he prepares to lose Russell and others heading into the current fallow week.

“We didn’t have the best preparation,” Townsend said. “Going into that game today England had double the preparation of us, because our English-based players aren’t allowed to train. Even though there are no games in the English Premiership, even though next week clubs are off for a week, we’re still not allowed to have the likes of Finn Russell training with us.

“Two training sessions is all we get as a team going into the England game, but it would have been four, if we had been allowed two weeks, I imagine it is going to be the same situation again now. Which is a really unfair disadvantage that we have. I don’t think it is right for the competition’s overall integrity.”

Saracens' Andy Christie celebrates winning
Andy Christie must return to Saracens before the fourth round of games even though the Premiership is on hiatus - Ben Whitley/PA Wire

Under World Rugby Regulation 9, clubs are only obliged to release players in pre-agreed international windows, which does not include the Six Nations’ fallow weeks. Under the terms of the Professional Game Agreement between Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union, which is worth more than £200 million, the England head coach gets to keep his players in camp during these periods.

Historically there would have been Premiership matches during the Six Nations window, but since the league was reduced to 10 teams the competition has been on hiatus from the end of January through to March 22, which has heightened Townsend’s anger. Asked if he perceived the stand-off as ludicrous, Townsend said: “Absolutely. Especially when they could be spending time with their families, and help our preparation, but we had to nail this down last week with Richie Simpson running at 10 for us in two sessions, credit to him he hasn’t played a game of pro rugby, he was playing inside Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones and outside George Horne in preparation, but look, I really wish this situation was better, because it’s not right for our players.

“It’s a credit to the players to go into that game today just on the back of two sessions and deliver that performance. Normally regulation nine is that we can only take players from outside Scotland when there is an international week’s training, 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 situation equally applies to the Welsh Rugby Union, which is privately understood to share Townsend’s frustration, although both unions are free to strike their own compensation agreements. From Premiership Rugby’s perspective, they are abiding by the terms of Regulation 9 and are not going to do the Celtic unions any favours when the RFU pays them handsomely for the same privilege.

“Premiership Rugby has a long-standing agreement with the RFU for the release of England players to prepare for Test matches,” a Premiership Rugby spokesman said. “As per World Rugby’s Regulation 9, all International players are released for the Unions in the defined periods and then return to their Premiership clubs – as per previous campaigns. While a review of World Rugby Regulation 9 compensation is undertaken ahead of a new global calendar from 2026, Premiership Rugby will continue to adhere to the regulation as it stands.”

World Rugby is also expected to change the defined international periods of Regulation 9 when the new international calendar comes into effect in 2026. In the meantime, Townsend will be left to grit his teeth that once again Russell will be forced to leave, even though he claims the individual clubs are happy for them to stay in the Scottish camp.

“We had no success over the last two weeks to get our players,” Townsend said. “I know there is apparently a bigger picture of player release, but the clubs want their players, or indicated to us they want their players training with us because there’s no training sessions, there’s no game in the Premiership for seven to eight weeks. We still can’t have our co-captain, who has been lighting up the Premiership, to come into camp for two days of training a week ago, and we’ll have the same next week.

“When we’re playing England and they don’t allow the players to go up when England are having a camp, 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.”

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