Gregor Townsend’s Scotland side, still suffering from an early World Cup exit, plunged into a new crisis at the end of January when Finn Russell left the Six Nations training camp only hours after joining, having fallen out over team protocols with management and teammates.
After arriving from London, where he had just played for Racing 92 in a thrilling European Cup match against reigning champions Saracens, the cause was Russell’s frustration with being told he could not have a second drink in the hotel bar. With the outsider and Townsend sharing heated debates in the national media and on the BBC website, things escalated rapidly.
If Scottish rugby had done a proper analysis of the failed World Cup campaign – as it does around the world – that highlighted the deteriorating relationship between these two wayward people, the whole thing could have been avoided, but that is now a moot point.
So without their standout playmaker, Scotland went into the Six Nations, and Adam Hastings was asked to fill that role. In a narrow loss to Ireland in Dublin, the rookie put in a convincing performance to open the season and displayed some class in his post-match remarks.
“Finn’s a great guy, he’s been super supportive of me since I arrived in Glasgow a couple of years ago and has been a good friend of mine ever since,” he said. “It was really nice of him to text me [before the game]and that helped me feel comfortable. He wished us well, so there’s no bad blood at all. At the end of the day, we’re still mates and we look out for each other.”
Scotland missed out again when, the following week, England faced their opponents in atrocious conditions at Murrayfield. Before fumbling on his own line in that game, Stuart Hogg, who had thrown the ball over the line against Ireland, had a tough baptism as captain, but he was generally an assured presence and seemed to develop into the role as the year went on, willing to delegate responsibility and eager to instill confidence in his players by encouraging (and often exaggerating) their abilities.
At the back, Townsend had shuffled his squad around: the defense was taken over by Steve Tandy and the scrum by Pieter de Villiers. In the third round, when Italy was systematically demolished in Rome, the new emphasis on these less glamorous facets of the game eventually paid off, and then the highlight of the year for the national team came when Grand Slam chasers France were sent home with their tails between their legs.
Rory Sutherland, Player of the Year, was instrumental in driving Mohamed Haouas so hard in a scrum that Jamie Ritchie was given a wild punch by the French forward that won him a red card and left his team playing shorthanded for 45 minutes.
In mid-March, Scotland traveled full of faith to Wales for the tournament final, but had to wait for the opportunity to end an 18-year drought in the principality as all came to a halt just 24 hours before kickoff when the nation was struck by the full reality of the Corona virus.
This weekend, the Scotland U20 team was able to play their game behind closed doors at Colwyn Bay, and it was Sean Lineen’s boys’ triumph. In an important 52-17 win, Standoff Nathan Chamberlain contributed 32 points (three tries, seven conversions and one penalty)
Richard Cockerill would have been convinced by this success to bring the young playmaker, who is under contract with Bristol Bears in his hometown, to Edinburgh on a training contract this year and make him permanent next season.
The intention was to slowly introduce him to senior rugby, but a budget impasse created by Covid and the fact that as soon as he applied for residency, Jaco van der Walt was called up by Scotland meant that Chamberlain had to jump in or swim at the deep end. He has kept his head above water so far.
Since rugby resumed, both Edinburgh and Glasgow have suffered. August and September were all about completing the season 2019-20. In each, Edinburgh had two knockout matches to play and missed out. They squandered a dominant 19-7 lead in the final 20 minutes in the PRO14 playoff semifinal against Ulster, then fell 23-14 at Bordeaux-Begles in the quarterfinals of the European Challenge Cup. Glasgow, who had been defeated in the last of the three