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Russell must become 'trusted' to earn recall, says Townsend

EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Scotland rugby coach Gregor Townsend maintained the door was open on Monday for Finn Russell to return to the international fold, but only if the flyhalf commits to “being a trusted member of the team.”

Russell, the country’s most talented player, was left out by Townsend for Scotland’s opening two matches of the Six Nations -- losses to Ireland and England -- after an alcohol-related breach of team protocol on the eve of the tournament.

In a revealing interview with the Sunday Times newspaper this weekend, seemingly given without approval by the Scottish Rugby Union, Russell spoke about his poor relationship with Townsend and seemed to put forward a “him or me” ultimatum.

Townsend took the unusual step of responding to Russell’s interview in a lengthy statement on Monday, in which the coach said the flyhalf dropped below the “agreed standard of behavior” and that “things have not unfolded as well as we would have hoped.”

It appears Townsend has no immediate plans to recall Russell, with Scotland’s next match in the Six Nations away to Italy in two weeks.

"The door will be open to any player with the required level of ability,” Townsend said, “if they commit to being a trusted member of the team. It’s been made clear that Finn could be a part of that future.

“However, he stated at the weekend that everything else has to change for him to come back, rather than accept and adhere to the standards currently being lived by the group."

Townsend said he wanted the situation to be resolved, before adding: “Our focus is on working with the squad and building on the positive work that’s gone in from the players for our first two games."

Russell said in the interview that his grievances with Townsend aren’t new. The pair argued during last year’s Six Nations, he said, and have clashed over Scotland’s style of play, with Russell preferring a less structured approach.

Russell acknowledged he had more beers than the agreed limit when the squad met up a week before the Six Nations. He left the camp and missed a team meeting the following morning. That night, despite a clear-the-air conversation with Townsend, Russell was told he would not be considered for the Ireland match in Dublin for breach of team protocol.

He has since returned to his club side Racing 92 in France.

"To play for Scotland takes total commitment,” Townsend said. “A lot of people make great sacrifices for the opportunity to represent 150 years of history and be among a special group of people who have had the honour of representing their nation.

"A lot of times, everything is not always how you’d like it to be. You might not agree with everything that is there, maybe because it’s a different coach than the one you have at club level or a different way of preparing or playing. What is important is that you commit to what has been agreed and put the best interests of the team first.”

In a further setback to what is proving a miserable Six Nations campaign for the Scots, lock Jonny Gray was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament because of a hand injury on Monday.

Gray was hurt during the 13-6 loss to England on Saturday and is returning to his club, Glasgow Warriors, for treatment.

The Italy-Scotland match in Rome on Feb. 22 is shaping up to be one that will determine which team finishes in last place.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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