Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Gregor Townsend’s management of both Finn Russell AND Blair Kinghorn has been a complete debacle

Scotland fans wearing Finn Russell masks before the game against Fiji.
Scotland fans wearing Finn Russell masks before the game against Fiji.

Being an international head coach is not at all easy. Well, not most of the time anyway.

Why, even Eddie Jones’ recurring mantra of “I’m not doing my job well enough” after every poor performance or result is beginning to wear thin. England fans are beginning to take it at face value, wondering aloud whether someone else might do it better.

Head coaches have so many plates to spin. Strategy and gameplans. Selection and training regimes. Being both a sergeant major and indulgent uncle. With upwards of 30 sometimes sensitive men.

A stake in all rugby’s various elements, attack, defence, setpiece, but also the need to be the glue that binds it all together. Media presence, and the strategy needed for that (quite a considerable thing, if you listen to Eddie and to Gregor Townsend talk recently).

Delegation works

You need to have a considerable confidence in yourself to be that person. But delegation often works.

I was surprised to see the extent of Australia’s back-room team lined up in front of the anthems before the test match at Murrayfield. There were so many they would have blocked the view of the first few rows of the West Stand.

And that’s after Dave Rennie’s budget was slashed after post-Covid losses at Rugby Australia.

New Zealand have pulled themselves out of their recent malaise just in time to keep beating Scotland, it seems.

But it’s also because head coach Ian Foster was convinced – if not forced – to spread his workload. Joe Schmidt was parachuted in as an assistant. The ABs have looked much more like themselves in recent weeks.

Townsend’s record at spinning those plates has been patchy. He was quite successful early on with just faithful lieutenant Matt Taylor and protege Mike Blair at his side, Danny Wilson coming along later.

But the 2019 World Cup put paid to that cosy group. Taylor left, Wilson also, Blair took the Edinburgh job.

Townsend had to bring in different voices, and extra ones. Presently the Scottish management has Steve Tandy, John Dalziel, AB Zondagh, Pieter de Villiers and most recently the mental skills coach Aaron Walsh.

Tandy, Dalziel and de Villiers all had immediate and obvious benefits. Scotland were better at defence, in the forwards and the scrum in 2020. I’ve yet to see much impact from Zondagh and Walsh is just in the door.

But anyway the noises from the camp is that Townsend, having benefited from delegation in  2020, has taken a lot back under his control in the last 18 months. “Reverted to type” was the description from one in-camp regular.

The issues with Russell are only one example

Trouble is, Gregor is plainly not able to spin all the plates he has to and keep them from crashing to the floor. And this is most evident in his man-management.

It manifests itself in the ongoing situation with Finn Russell. In an interview with the Mail’s Alex Bywater before he returned to the Scotland camp this week, Russell said that he hadn’t spoken to Townsend since the Six Nations.

Various people in the camp have said lines of communication were maintained. This may be true.

Russell said he got texts from Townsend to outline what had changed since he was last involved in March. It’s a line of communication alright, but…

Townsend has form for this, and not just in previous times with Russell. There was poor communication when Adam Hastings was dropped last year, with the player saying there was pretty much silence between the parties.

There certainly seems to have been poor communication to then-captain Stuart Hogg and those players – including Russell – who went out for a jar to mark Ali Price’s 50th cap after the Italy game in the spring.

The players clearly thought they had the green light for a modest celebration. Instead they were subsequently hauled over the coals in public.

Senior players in the past – two captains at least during his regime – have had issues with Townsend’s man-management.

But this latest debacle is obviously the worst of all. Russell could well be a difficult character to deal with even by someone with superior talents. But he is by some distance the best available player in his position to Scotland.

And Townsend’s promotion of Blair Kinghorn as an alternative 10 is further compelling evidence of the coach’s lack of man-management skills.

The Blair Switch Project was Gregor’s alone

Kinghorn is a fine 15 and a excellent wing. He would surely inherit the 15 shirt from Stuart Hogg if the former skipper decided his international career is done – you’d think it likely given his currently sour mood – after the World Cup.

Meantime he could be an highly effective – even devastating – player at a number of positions off the bench, especially late in games.

But he’s not a frontline, let alone an international 10. Alan Solomons and Richard Cockerill had many differences in their tenures as Edinburgh head coach, but in the first seven years of Blair’s pro career neither saw him as a stand-off.

Kinghorn’s role has been handled as badly as Russell’s.

Yet Townsend has promoted, packaged and capped him as a Scotland 10 in less than nine months.

This weekend he simply has to start Kinghorn at 10 against the All Blacks. Anything else would be a complete U-turn to everything he’s been promoting in the last year and a half.

It would surely be devastating for the player’s confidence, already shaken by the hostility of some Scotland fans to Russell’s absence. If Kinghorn flops and Russell has to be restored for Argentina, the effect is going to be similar.

It should never have come to this. We know that the Townsend’s management of Russell has been dire.

But the biggest indictment of it all is that it may be equally as dire for Kinghorn as well.