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Sale factor 'black swan moment' into their plan for Finn Russell

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

Sale boss Alex Sanderson has spoken about the threat that the maverick Finn Russell presents to the Sharks’ Heineken Champions Cup hopes and the training ground measures that are being taken to help snuff out that likely danger. The Gallagher Premiership club is preparing for next Sunday’s European quarter-final away to Racing 92 in Paris with Kieran Wilkinson playing the shackle-free role of Russell in training in Manchester.

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“He is predictably unpredictable – the best players are,” said Sale director of rugby Sanderson when asked by RugbyPass on Tuesday afternoon for his thoughts on Russell, the out-half who has started five matches for Racing since his return to France following his disappointing Guinness Six Nations with Scotland.

“He functions well off quick ball, which they [Racing] have. He is a threat. Not just a kick pass threat but more of a run threat with wingers inside and forwards or (Virimi) Vakatawa on the outside. Then he has got an attacking kicking threat in and around the halfway line which we have seen before. 

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Chris Ashton | Rugby Roots
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Chris Ashton | Rugby Roots

“These are the things you see more often than not that he does really well. There are still other areas of his game, his long kicking game is pretty good as well when they get into kicking duels and we have already been through a bit of that. But you know, you never see him get smashed – ever. 

“There is no point saying, ‘Right, let’s get to him, take him out of the game’ because he doesn’t get smashed so we’ll not be able to do something that no other team in the land hasn’t been able to do. But what you do then is negate some of the things that make him good. That is the key to it. Like, with any fly-half, it’s time, it’s space, it’s the speed of ball. It’s taking those options away from him.”

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Why doesn’t Russell, who is in his fourth season at Racing, ever get smashed? “Because he is that good, his ability to offload the ball, get rid of the ball, to use agility and footwork to get a soft shoulder is second to none. He is very good.”

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How has the youthful Wilkinson warmed to his task of being the best simulation of Russell he can be on the training ground? “We need to experience that. He has got a bit of that in him, Kieran. He wants to be that kind of threat. Marcus Smith is pretty similar, he has got all those three threats at the line. 

“But the more you can show those types of pictures and predict a certain type of way that they [Racing] play is the time that they get you with something that you haven’t planned for, the black swan moment. So it’s as much about being alive to everything as it is focusing on the one individual in Finn Russell.”  

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