FINN RUSSELL remains hopeful of being involved in Scotland’s Six Nations campaign, despite his relationship with head coach Gregor Townsend appearing to have hit rock bottom following a Sunday evening drinking session in the team hotel bar. This led to the stand-off being told he would not be involved in the championship opener a week on Saturday.

It is understood that Townsend is also keen to find common ground to rescue the relationship.

Details remain hazy but it appears the stand-off, who had played for Racing 92 versus Saracens earlier that day, refused to stop drinking despite being urged to do so by Scotland squad players and staff, and there may have been words exchanged with Townsend.

Russell did not stay in the hotel that night and did not turn up for training on Monday morning, although it is highly unlikely that he would have taken a full part in the session anyway given that he had played the previous day. The 27-year-old did have a "positive" meeting with Townsend later that day and was assured that the situation was resolvable but there would have to be consequences, which would include missing the team’s Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin a week on Saturday.

He was, however, apparently told that he could remain with the squad to help the team prepare for the Ireland game. He was told to take Tuesday off, while Wednesday was a rest day, so was asked to come back into camp on Thursday morning, but agreed instead to return to Paris to start preparing to play for Racing 92 versus Castres on Saturday.

A statement issued by the SRU yesterday lunchtime stated: “Stand-off Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week’s camp in Edinburgh. He has returned to his club.”

The absence of Russell from the team to play Ireland – and from the rest of the tournament if it comes to that – would be a major blow. The maverick playmaker has a tendency to blow hot and cold, but, when he hits his groove, he is one of the most inventive, effective and exhilarating attacking players in world rugby.

He is a gregarious and popular member of the Scotland squad, and with 46 caps, he has a level of experience which is in short supply in the national team back line after the recent retirements of Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour, and the non-selection for this tournament of Peter Horne.

Russell exudes a jack-the-lad personality, and a viral video clip of him, Laidlaw and a handful of other members of the national squad singing Flower of Scotland following the team’s famous Calcutta Cup victory in 2018 highlights that he is not adverse to a post-match tipple – but he also takes his rugby for more seriously than he often lets on, and is fiercely passionate about playing for Scotland, so it seems there is more to this story than one individual blowing off a bit too much steam following a big match.

Russell has a complicated relationship with the Scottish Rugby Union. In 2018, his father Keith won an unfair dismissal case against the organisation, after which he launched a scathing broadside at the management culture at Murrayfield. The player has, in the past, made no secret of his disdain for a certain senior figure at the top of the organisation.

Rumours have circulated for some time that Russell’s relationship with Townsend is not great. As a player, Townsend was cut from the same cloth as Russell, in terms of being a highly talented free-spirit determined to play the game with wit and ambition, but his coaching style is more regimented and Russell gave an indication of strain when discussing the team’s remarkable 2019 Calcutta Cup comeback.

“I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half time],” said Russell in a TV interview immediately after the game last March. “I said to him: ‘You’re telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they’re just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back’. Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby.”

The SRU were at pains to stress afterwards that Russell's words should not be read into too deeply, but as this story unfolds it seems a festering tension has developed into a full-blown personality clash which could deprive Scotland of one of their most important players for a pivotal Six Nations campaign.