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Finn Russell stars for Racing 92 as Northampton suffer big defeat in Euro opener

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Finn Russell inspired Racing 92 to a resounding 45-14 Champions Cup victory at Franklin’s Gardens, where Northampton emerged as willing victims for the Parisians.

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Aided by Saints’ alarming vulnerability in defence, the Scotland fly-half conjured two tries for Juan Imhoff and one for Wenceslas Lauret in a first half Racing finished 28-7 ahead.

The visitors sit eighth in the Top 14 table but there was no sign of their domestic strife as Russell linked brilliantly with Australia full-back Kurtley Beale to torment a disappointing Northampton.

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Another moment of magic from the Lions playmaker helped Lauret to his hat-trick in the second half as Saints endured a chastening evening on which they were beaten in all departments by the three-time finalists.

In total, the Gallagher Premiership’s third-placed team leaked five tries on the opening day of the 2021-22 Champions Cup to significantly damage their chances of reaching the knockout phase.

Courtney Lawes was missing after it was revealed before kick-off that he was to sit out a second game because of Covid-19, but even the presence of England’s stand-in captain would have made little impact.

It looked bleak as early as the opening eight minutes when Racing surged 13-0 ahead, launching their assault with two Maxime Machenaud penalties before crossing through Lauret.

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The second row was the beneficiary of frail Saints defending and dazzling interplay between Russell and Beale, who exploited a large gap around the ruck.

Saints exerted some pressure for the first time, but they were scrappy as a poor pass to George Furbank hit the ground and Racing seized the opportunity to pour downfield.

Russell and Beale were pulling the strings to deadly effect, but once more it was Northampton’s defence that was at fault as the Parisians engineered a second try when the Scot sent Imhoff racing over.

Saints eventually came alive on the half-hour mark when a period of attack reached the critical moment as Lewis Ludlam held the ball up close to the touchline and fed Matt Proctor, whose smart kick was touched down by Courtnall Skosan.

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Any fightback hinged upon building on the try, but instead Racing plundered their third and, as before, it was a combination of Russell’s magic and a Northampton lapse in concentration that led to the score.

A maul did the initial damage as the home pack were sent hurtling backwards and Russell pulled the trigger by firing a long pass to Beale, who presented Imhoff with a simple run-in.

And the second half had barely started when Russell set off on a classy run that teed up a second try for Lauret via an off-load over the top.

Northampton hit back when Fraser Dingwall reached out to touch down, but they still trailed 38-14 heading into the final quarter and, when Gael Fickou burst through the midfield for Lauret to complete his hat-trick, the floodgates were opening.

Ludlam had a try ruled out for a dubious block by Ollie Sleightholme as part of a strong finish from the home side, but Racing were already out of sight.

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Shaylen 52 minutes ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

12 Go to comments
J
Jon 6 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink
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