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Northampton make three changes while Racing include Finn Russell

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

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.”

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

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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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Shaylen 1 hours 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

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Jon 7 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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