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Northampton make three changes while Racing include Finn Russell

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Northampton have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against a star-studded Racing team that includes Scotland talisman Finn Russell at out-half. The Parisians have been going through a sticky spell in the Top 14, dropping to eighth on the table after four defeats in the last five outings.

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However, rather than look to cotton wool players for league games later this month, Racing will fly into England with all guns blazing as they seek to make a good start in a European tournament where they were beaten finalists in October 2020, Laurent Travers’ side losing the showpiece decider to Exeter at Bristol.

Defeated by Montpellier, Brive and Bordeaux in recent weeks, Racing were beaten 25-3 at Castres last weekend and have now bolstered their selection with five changes, including Kurtley Beale at full-back, Teddy Thomas on the wing, skipper Gael Fickou in the midfield, Russell at out-half and Bernard le Roux in their pack.

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Ex-All Blacks prop John Afoa guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Ex-All Blacks prop John Afoa guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

Northampton, meanwhile, have included Matt Proctor, Api Ratuniyarawa and Nick Auterac following last weekend’s six-try win over bottom club Bath in the Premiership.

Saints boss Chris Boyd insisted he hasn’t been fooled by Racing’s underwhelming French league form. “If you have a look at some of their games they have been dreadful but it seems to be the French way. They could go to an away game that they don’t appear to be very interested in… so you don’t get that sort of a swing in the Premiership.

“You can go and find anything you want to find from Racing, poor defence, good defence, wide attack, aerial kicking, you can find whatever you like because they can produce it all but what we do know is when they put all their best players together and they are focused on a performance, then a team like Racing would probably beat certainly all tier two nations globally and would probably give some of the bottom of the tier one nations a bit of a hurry up. They are a quality side.”

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NORTHAMPTON: 15. George Furbank; 14. Tommy Freeman, 13. Matt Proctor, 12. Fraser Dingwall, 11. Courtnall Skosan; 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Alex Mitchell; 1. Nick Auterac, 2. Sam Matavesi, 3. Ehren Painter, 4. David Ribbans, 5. Api Ratuniyarawa, 6. Karl Wilkins, 7. Lewis Ludlam (capt), 8. Juarno Augustus. Reps: 16. James Fish, 17. Alex Waller, 18. Conor Carey, 19. Alex Coles, 20. Tom Wood, 21. Frank Lomani, 22. Rory Hutchinson, 23. Ollie Sleightholme

RACING 92: 15. Kurtley Beale; 14. Teddy Thomas, 13. Virimi Vakatawa, 12. Gael Fickou (capt), 11. Juan Imhoff; 10. Finn Russell, 9. Maxime Machenaud; 1. Guram Gogichashvili, 2. Teddy Baubigny, 3. Ali Oz, 4. Luke Jones, 5. Bernard le Roux, 6. Wenceslas Lauret, 7. Ibrahim Diallo, 8. Yoan Tanga. Reps: 16. Camille Chat, 17. Eddy Ben Arous, 18. Cedate Gomes Sa, 19. Anton Bresler, 20. Baptiste Chouzenoux, 21. Antoine Gibert, 22. Henry Chavancy, 23. Donovan Taofifenua

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