Mavericks don’t fit straitjackets

Recall what the great Steve Jobs said: “Think differently” when giving reasons for the global success of Apple

Then consider the spat between Finn Russell, the supremely talented Scotland fly-half and Gregor Townsend, the current Scotland rugby team manager and ex-fly-half, which was reported on in the Sunday Times by ex-England fly-half, Stuart Barnes

Russell has been dropped from the Scottish team for ‘not following team protocols’

Barnes says:

  • “Townsend is now part of  the joyless corporate world that turns pleasure into pain with overly structured game plans subsuming individual talent”
  • “Russell is that rarest of rugby beasts – a free thinker – and so a threat to the game-plan-gurus who change rugby into the robotic process it has become”


Without Russell, Scotland monopolised possession at the start of their latest international against England but could not score

Barnes is convinced that Russell would have made all the difference with his ability to ‘play what he sees’ versus the rigid structure that Eddy Jones, the England coach, requires his team to follow

Russell says: “I need to do what makes me happy and makes me play my best rugby” – he also praises his French club, Racing 92, saying: “They treat you like an adult”

This implies Townsend runs a rugby kindergarten whereas the previous Scotland coach, Vern Cotter: “Had a very simple game plan but you could play anything off it”

Others will see that as ‘dangerously hedonistic’ despite there  being nothing better for team morale than a happy group of players – and nothing worse than a band of blokes just keeping their heads down

Russell’s vision of the looser plan has to be the brighter one – one which can excel as well as entertain

Barnes goes on to liken Russell’s attitude to that of the great American jazz musician, Miles Davis: “He knew the notes he needed to hit to give his tune shape – musical annotations from which he could drift into the floating free form of jazz  that made him into a musician like few others”

Barnes concludes that:

  • “The globalisation of the planet, in a corporate as well as sporting sense, has made everything familiar, safe, almost sanitised – the greater the assets the coach can call upon, the less the freedom of the player is recognised – the deification of the coach has become the downsizing of the playmaker”
  • “Progress is not linear in any walk of life”
  • “We think we are moving into a brave new world with the sort of statistical obsession Russell castigates – instead, we are coaching our way into a dark age where a smile and the ability to do something sizzling is no longer welcome”


Let Steve Jobs have the last word on this issue: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy”


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