Scotland's Russell freed for France Six Nations match

Nicholas MC ANALLY
·3-min read
Finn Russell (right) has been been given the green light by his club Racing 92 to play for Scotland against France in the Six Nations on March 26

Scotland's Finn Russell will be available for next weekend's potential Six Nations title decider with France, his club Racing 92 told AFP on Friday.

Fly-half Russell was at risk of being barred from a coronavirus-hit fixture that now falls outside the tournament's scheduled window.

The re-arranged March 26 date means clubs are no longer obliged to release players as would have been required under World Rugby regulations had the game gone ahead as planned on February 28, before it was postponed following 16 cases of Covid-19 in the France set-up.

Russell has been ruled out of Scotland's Six Nations match at home to Italy on Saturday with concussion suffered in last week's defeat by Ireland, but he is expected to be fit by March 26.

France will be able to pick a full-strength squad against Scotland following an agreement between the Top 14 sides and the French Rugby Federation.

Asked if Russell would be made available as well, Racing director of rugby Laurent Travers told AFP: "Yes, he will be released."

But no agreement has yet been reached with Premiership clubs, meaning Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner, all of whom play for English and European champions Exeter, could miss next week's match at the Stade de France.

The Premiership have said they will bring forward the kick-off time of Exeter's southwest derby away to Gloucester on March 26 in order to avoid a clash of televised rugby, with the France-Scotland match scheduled for 2000 GMT.

But money remains a key stumbling block when it comes to the question of player release, for all Premiership Rugby acknowledged the "unprecedented" crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Premiership spokesman said Friday they were now considering an exception to their longstanding policy of not releasing players for non-England matches outside agreed windows provided they received "reasonable reimbursement".

"We will continue to collaborate with the Scottish Rugby Union and the Six Nations Committee over the rearranged match, and we hope to resolve the issue," the spokesman added.

Hogg, meanwhile, said it was "pointless" for him to speculate about the outcome of any talks.

"We've just got to let the powers that be make the decisions," he said. "All I'm concentrating on is playing the Italians tomorrow."

But Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was adamant he wanted to field his best possible side next week.

"We believe this is the only way to make this tournament as true and proper as it should be -- full squad against full squads," he said on Thursday.

"It's the biggest tournament in world rugby outside the World Cup and we obviously don't want to go into a game where we are not allowed to pick certain players."

France face Grand Slam-chasing Wales in Paris on Saturday after their own bid for a clean sweep was dashed by last week's loss to England.

Les Bleus, however, could still claim their first Six Nations title since 2010 with bonus-point wins over both Wales and Scotland.