Scotland boss Townsend wants stars released for virus-hit France match

London (AFP) –


Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has urged rugby officials to make sure he can select his strongest available side for the re-arranged Six Nations match away to France.

Tournament chiefs announced Thursday that the coronavirus-hit fixture would now take place in Paris on March 26 -- six days after the planned end of the Championship.

The third-round tie had been originally scheduled for February 28, but was postponed after France recorded 16 positive Covid-19 cases among their set-up.

France and Scotland will now have to play three Six Nations matches in as many weeks, a scenario that had already contributed to Townsend's decision to make changes for Saturday's match at home to perennial Six Nations strugglers Italy.

But as the new date for the France fixture falls outside the Six Nations original 'window', clubs are not obliged to release players, as they would have had the match gone ahead as scheduled.

That could pose problems for Scotland given both captain Stuart Hogg and lock Jonny Gray play for English Premiership and European champions Exeter.

A Premiership spokesperson told AFP that no agreement over player release had yet been reached.

Talks, however, are still ongoing, even though the Premiership already have league games scheduled for next weekend, with Exeter away to southwest rivals Gloucester on the very same Friday that now sees Scotland in action.

France's Top 14 clubs are expected to allow their Les Bleus stars to play in the game, although it is not yet clear whether Paris-based Racing 92 will make Scotland star Finn Russell available.

Townsend, speaking before Thursday's announcement, called on administrators to let him field his best possible side.

"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.

"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."

- Russell's Racing uncertainty -

Townsend, however, stressed there was no question of boycotting the fixture if Scotland were forced to be under-strength.

"I don't think I would have that power. Ultimately, if the Six Nations agree we have to play then we will have to play, but I'm hoping that's not the case and that all our players are available."

Russell, ruled out of the Italy match with concussion suffered in last week's 27-24 loss to Ireland, is expected to be fit to face France.

Former Scotland fly-half Townsend, asked if No 10 Russell would be available, replied: "I would hope so given that the French players are all being released."

Earlier, a brief official statement said: "Six Nations Rugby has confirmed the rescheduled France v Scotland fixture as follows: Date: Friday 26th March 2021. Time: 9pm (French time), 8pm (UK Time). Venue: Stade de France."

France are also playing this Saturday, when they will try to maintain their title bid by denying Wales a Grand Slam in Paris.