Gregor Townsend questions ‘unfair’ Six Nations rules after being denied access to Finn Russell

Gregor Townsend has questioned the “unfair” rules that mean that Scotland’s English-based players must return to their clubs during the Six Nations fallow weeks.

Townsend expressed his frustration at the player release regulations after his side secured a fourth successive Calcutta Cup victory at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Scotland’s preparation for the fixture had been hampered by the unavailability of Finn Russell and other key individuals, who were not able to remain in camp during the first off weekend.

This is because the two fallow weeks fall outside the Test windows specified by World Rugby in which clubs have to make their players available for international action.

England, conversely, benefit from an agreement with the Premiership that allows Steve Borthwick to keep his players in camp, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) paying clubs for access. Normally, clubs would play league fixtures in the Six Nations’ off weeks, but a revamped calendar means only Premiership Rugby Cup games and friendlies are being played this year.

Townsend believes that the regulation should be looked at to ensure that there is a level playing field.

“We didn’t have the best preparation,” the Scotland coach said after a 30-21 victory. “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. It’s a credit to the players to go into that game today just on the back of two sessions and deliver that performance. But I really wish this situation was better, because it’s not right.

Scotland continued their Calcutta Cup supremacy despite disruption in the build-up (Getty Images)
Scotland continued their Calcutta Cup supremacy despite disruption in the build-up (Getty Images)

“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.

“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.”

Russell, Cameron Redpath, Elliot Millar-Mills, Alec Hepburn and Andy Christie were the Premiership players in Townsend’s matchday 23 against England, with his star fly half’s absence forcing Townsend to train with uncapped youngster Richie Simpson at the position.

The number of Six Nations fallow weeks will be halved from 2026 as rugby authorities bid to align the calendar and move away from the club/country clashes that have often caused problems within the sport.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Townsend suggested that he and the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) had been lobbying the Premiership to change their stance, but the league insisted in a statement on Sunday night that they were simply following the rules set out by World Rugby.

“Premiership Rugby has a long-standing agreement with the RFU for the release of England players to prepare for Test matches,” the statement 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.”