EDINBURGH RUGBY head coach Richard Cockerill has given his full backing to Scotland coach Gregor Townsend and how he’s dealt with the Finn Russell situation that dominated Scotland’s build-up to the Six Nations as well as the start of their tournament.

Russell left the camp ahead of Scotland’s opening match against Ireland after a “breach of team protocol” and as a result of that, Townsend has omitted the fly-half from the squad for both the Ireland and England matches.

There has been criticism from some quarters of the head coach’s actions, with some arguing that leaving arguably your best player out of your squad for two crucial games, that Scotland went on to lose, was counterproductive.

But Cockerill believes Townsend has done exactly the right thing, and the Englishman revealed he would have acted in exactly the same way had he been in a similar position.

“For me, Gregor had no choice but to do what he’s done. Players can’t run the team: coaches run the team. It’s as simple as that,” Cockerill said.

“From my own experience and my own opinion, Gregor has done exactly what he should have done. Sometimes you have to flex your muscle and put a stake down: ‘This is what we do, this is how we operate. Sorry, whoever doesn’t want to operate within that, then hard lines’.

“And if you want to come back into the environment, as Gregor said, and you want to be part of it, great. But until that happens, then step away.

“I get it that there’ll be criticism for Gregor because people want to see their favourite player but he has no choice, he’s done exactly the right thing, it’s exactly what I would do and I support what he’s done, 100 percent.”

There has been a suggestion that allowances should be made for players of the talent of Russell. But Cockerill is adamant that however influential a certain player may be, they cannot be allowed to bend rules, irrespective of how good a player they may be, as the long-term damage could be significant.

“In the very, very short-term, it may be slightly detrimental to the team performance. Long-term,  culturally, it will be of huge benefit to Scottish rugby. That’s just the nature of it,” he said.

“Finn’s a good man, he’s a very good player, but so are the other 35 lads in camp. I don’t know the details, I don’t want to pick sides, because that’s not my job, but I know as a coach - and I’ve been in situations where players don’t agree with you - sometimes you have to stand your ground. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions.

“Gregor wouldn’t want him not to play. Gregor would love him to play, I’m sure. I haven’t had the conversation, but I want to watch him play, the public want to watch him play. But the culture and the team dynamic comes first. We’re all part of that.  “We all have frameworks we have to work within. Or if you choose to take yourself out of it, that’s your call.”

Cockerill may be speaking from the perspective of a coach these days but he also has experience of a very similar situation during his own playing days.

An England internationalist, he had a dispute with then England coach, Clive Woodward, whereby he lambasted Woodward’s coaching methods in his book entitled ‘In Your Face’. He never played for England again.

And so while his actions severely damaged his rugby career, with hindsight, he believes Woodward did exactly the right thing in banishing him from the international team.

“In ‘99 I wrote a book where I criticised Clive Woodward. He dropped me and never picked me again.

“I never played for England ever again, he won the World Cup and I watched it on telly.  “That’s a choice I made. He wanted me to apologise, I refused and we went on our different ways,” he said.

 “If I had my time again I’d do something very different. But as a coach, now I sit in his shoes, what he did was exactly right.   “What I should have done was have those conversations in private. That’s where it should probably stay.

“That was slightly different to Finn, but similar consequences. Since ‘99, I’ve never been to an England training camp. ‘That’s your choice, sit over there, and we’ll get on with what we’re doing.’ Act in haste and repent at leisure.”  Meanwhile, Cockerill is fully focused on his side’s first competitive outing for four weeks when they play Scarlets away on Saturday.

He will have a number of Scotland internationalists available for selection, but will still be without some key players for the visit to Wales although he is refusing to look negatively on their absence.

“We’ve got (WP) Nel, (Grant) Gilchrist, (Nick) Haining, (Matt) Scott, (Henry) Pyrgos back but won’t have (Stuart) McInally, (Simon) Berghan, (Rory) Sutherland, (Ben) Toolis or the three back-rowers (Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury).

“We’ll work as hard as we can with the players we have and think about all the good things we can do rather than complaining about all the people we haven’t got. It’s just normal for us.”