Six Nations: Scotland & Gregor Townsend hit by Hurricane Finn after Storm Ciara
If Gregor Townsend thought Storm Ciara wreaked havoc at Murrayfield on Saturday, she was as nothing compared to the scattered debris of Hurricane Finn on Sunday.
Speaking in his first interview since BBC Scotland broke the story of his dramatic exit from Townsend's squad, Finn Russell has gone on the attack in a major way, questioning the environment created by Townsend, criticising his coaching methods and revealing that he can't operate in the Scotland set-up unless there are major changes.
What Russell has effectively said in the Sunday Times is that it's 'Me or Gregor'. It's a challenge laid down in the most stark fashion and it will leave Townsend feeling infinitely more uncomfortable than he was even in defeat on Saturday, his second in a row in this year's championship which adds to a record of only one Six Nations victory in his last seven matches.
A chunk of what Russell has said was known before, either through sources close to him or from contacts familiar with the troubled relationship he has had with his national team coach for a year or more. Reading it in his own words is an altogether different matter, though.
- Russell speaks out after Scotland exile
- Townsend coy on Russell 'conversation'
- Scotland lose Calcutta Cup
'Townsend vulnerable because of results'
In a nutshell, Russell thinks that Townsend is too controlling, too joyless, too unwilling to let players have a voice in the squad and be treated like adults. It's a deeply cutting appraisal of the coach's ways. He says that other players feel the same as he does but that they're reluctant to speak out because they're employed by the SRU. Russell, a Racing 92 man, doesn't feel under the same constraint.
How many players' views would chime with Russell's is unclear, but unquestionably some would agree with him in part or in whole. Over the last year, there's been talk of the coach's intransigence in his game plan and his controlling of the environment. Joe Schmidt lorded it over every single aspect of the operation when he was Ireland coach and not every player revelled in his ways. They accepted it because the team was successful. The same with Eddie Jones' England players.
Townsend hasn't had the success those other coaches have had and, is therefore, more vulnerable to this kind of criticism. In Russell's opinion, Townsend hasn't created a culture where player empowerment is considered welcome. The two men have been at loggerheads for a long time. It's now become a catastrophe, the second major confrontation between the Russell family and the SRU.
The last one was won hands-down by his father, Keith, who was sacked from his post at the union and won an unfair dismissal case against the SRU - the verdict shining a spotlight on the governance failings of chief executive Mark Dodson and his colleagues.
The treatment of his father is a backdrop to another sorry story, one that may never see coach and player working together again.
"The current situation, set-up and environment, I don't think I want to play in that," says the fly-half. "I don't think it's good for me as a person or as a player... It's about control, respect and trust, on and off the pitch... I want the best for Scotland and so I've questioned the environment to try and make it better. We have clashed quite a lot, him saying one thing and me saying another."
'Russell cannot have it both ways'
There's layer after layer to this story and each side of the tale demands proper scrutiny. Russell is clearly enjoying his rugby at Racing, a club that has given him freedom to express himself on and off the field, the kind of latitude he says he doesn't get in the Scotland camp.
His life has changed massively since he moved to Paris. He's playing in a powerhouse team, is earning a powerhouse salary, and is living the life of a star. Racing are understanding of their players wanting to kick back on the social side and Russell has done so with elan.
Since his move to France he's been alternating between Racing's rugby bohemia and what he apparently sees as Townsend's rugby Presbyterianism. His two worlds have collided. The beers in the team bar might have been the tip of the iceberg but that saga was illustrative of a guy who wants to do things his own way on and off the pitch and didn't appreciate being told by his team-mates that he should stop drinking. His response to this was to call his parents to come and get him and take him home.
It has to be said there is more than a hint of immaturity in some of his comments, a strong suggestion that he knows best and that what works for him should be what works for everybody.
He says he wants to be treated like an adult but then - the drinking episode apart - he failed to turn up for a team meeting on the Monday morning. He may say that his absence was just a manifestation of his frustration with Townsend's environment - and it was - but he can't have it both ways. He can't call for a new culture while failing to show the basic discipline of turning up for a meeting that was attended by every other player in the squad.
His absence angered not just his coach but his fellow players. If Russell thinks that he enjoys complete support on all fronts from the dressing room then he's wrong. Even though some agree with him on Townsend they also thought him out of order in those fateful days leading up to his exit.
There's a lot going on here. "Just now there's no relationship [with Townsend], we don't work at all together," Russell says. "For me, just now, for my rugby and for my health, I don't think I can do it."
If all of this has been impacting on his mental health, we're into different territory. Then, it's more about his well-being as a person rather than his performances as a rugby player. If he's saying that working in the Scotland environment is bad for his health then this is truly troubling. Your heart would go out to him if that was the case.
'The situation needed managed but it wasn't'
The one, entirely reasonable, question that people ask is how on earth did it get to this? How was this allowed to snowball for more than a year? Townsend is a coach but he's also a manager and managers are there to manage people as much as game plans. This situation has not been managed. There's been a colossal failing along the line.
All players are not the same. Some need kid gloves and some need a big stick. Some need a cuddle and some need a kick. A few sources within the squad environment say that they were not surprised when the news broke of Russell's exit. They could see it coming.
If they could see it, then why didn't the Scotland management do anything - or do more - to head it off at the pass? Russell's concerns might be absolutely on the money or they might be a touch of the diva at play, but regardless, the situation needed managing - and it wasn't. And now it looks to be too late.
Townsend is zero from two in the Six Nations. There is not even the slightest suggestion that he has lost the faith of his players, though. They have been beaten narrowly in two games and whatever about their flaws, they've emptied themselves in the process, they've battled as hard as their bodies allowed.
In the build-up to playing Italy in Rome in a fortnight - a game they have to win - Townsend will once again be bombarded with queries about his missing 10. So, too, his players. One of them admitted privately last week that he understood why the Russell questions had to be asked but that he was, er, slightly tired of listening to them.
Nobody would have to listen to them had this sad situation been dealt with earlier. Russell is a terrific bloke and a sumptuous rugby player. Townsend is a driven coach who works from dusk till dawn in an attempt to take Scotland forward.
Both men want exactly the same things for the team, but the distance between them is huge and is widening all the time.