STILL reeling from their early World Cup exit, Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad plunged into a fresh crisis in late January when Finn Russell left the Six Nations training camp just a few hours after arrival following a dispute with management and fellow senior players about team protocols.

The spark was Russell’s unhappiness at being told he couldn’t have a second drink in the hotel bar following his arrival from London, where he had just played for Racing 92 in a full-blooded European Champions Cup clash against reigning champions Saracens, and things quickly escalated to the point where the maverick stand-off and Townsend were exchanging brickbats in national newspapers and on the BBC website.

The whole thing might have been avoided if Scottish Rugby – in keeping with established practice from around the world – had conducted a proper review of their failed World Cup campaign, which would have identified the deteriorating relationship between these two headstrong individuals, but that is a moot point now.

Scotland, therefore, went into the Six Nations without their outstanding playmaker, with Adam Hastings being asked to fill the role. The novice stepped up with an assured performance in the campaign opener – a narrow loss to Ireland in Dublin – and showed a bit of class in his post-match comments.

“Finn is a great bloke, he’s been brilliant with me ever since I arrived at Glasgow a few years ago, he’s been a good friend of mine ever since,” he said. “It was really nice of him to text me [before the match] and it helped make me feel comfortable. He wished us all the best so there is no bad blood at all. At the end of the day, we're still mates and we look out for each other.”

Scotland came up just short again when England provided the opposition in atrocious conditions at Murrayfield the following week. Having dropped the ball over the line against Ireland, before fumbling on his own line in this match, Stuart Hogg was having a tough baptism to captaincy, but he was generally an assured presence and seemed to grow into the role as the year wore on, happy to delegate responsibility and at pains to instil confidence in his players by talking up (and sometimes exaggerating) their ability.

Townsend had shuffled his backroom team, with Steve Tandy coming in to run the defence and Pieter de Villiers taking charge of the scrum. The new focus on these less glamorous aspects of the game finally paid off in round three when Italy were systematically dismantled in Rome, and then came the national team’s high-water mark for the year when Grand Slam chasing France were sent home tail between legs.

Player of the year Rory Sutherland was instrumental, giving Mohamed Haouas such a tough time in the scrum that the French prop ended up throwing a wild punch at Jamie Ritchie to earn a red card which left his team short-handed for 45 minutes.

Scotland travelled to Wales for their tournament finale in mid-March high in confidence, but they had to wait for that chance to end an 18-year drought in the Principality because everything ground to a halt just 24 hours before kick-off as the full reality of coronavirus dawned on the country.

The Scotland Under-20s did manage to get their game played behind closed doors in Colwyn Bay that weekend and it was a triumph for Sean Lineen’s boys, with stand-off Nathan Chamberlain contributing 32 points (three tries, seven conversions and a penalty) in a momentous 52-17 victory.

That performance will have gone a long way to persuading Richard Cockerill to bring the young playmaker – who was an academy contract with his hometown club of Bristol Bears – to Edinburgh on an apprenticeship deal this year, moving to a full-time gig next season.

The plan was to ease him into senior rugby but a Covid-induced budget freeze and Jaco van der Walt being called up by Scotland as soon as he qualified on residency grounds meant Chamberlain had to sink or swim in the deep end. He’s kept his head above water so far.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have struggled since the resumption of rugby. August and September was about getting the 2019-20 season finished. Edinburgh had two knock-out matches to play and came up short in both, throwing away a commanding 19-7 lead in the final 20 minutes in their PRO14 play-off semi-final against Ulster, and then going down 23-14 at Bordeaux-Begles in their European Challenge Cup quarter-final. Glasgow, who seemed to run out of steam in the last of Dave Rennie’s three years as head coach, didn’t qualify for any knock-out games.

The pro clubs are currently fifth out of six teams in their respective PRO14 conferences with just two wins apiece (Edinburgh have played seven games and Glasgow have played eight). In the Champions Cup, Glasgow suffered an ignominious 42-0 loss to title-holders Exeter Chiefs a fortnight ago, compounded by being exposed to Covid by their opponents leading to their second match against Lyon and this weekend’s 1872 Cup clash being called off.

Edinburgh lost (narrowly again) at home to La Rochelle in their opening European match but will be hoping that their gritty win in round two last weekend can a harbinger for a positive 2021.

Scotland’s Autumn Test schedule was a qualified success, beating Georgia, Wales and Italy, then losing to France and Ireland.

Scotland Women had a very frustrating year, with their Six Nations matches against Italy and Wales being postponed and then cancelled. They will, however, take huge confidence from their excellent 13-13 draw against France in late October, and hope that they can carry that momentum into 2021 when they will look to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2010.