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14th Oct 2020

“In the big games, and big moments, he’s the type of guy you need around”

Patrick McCarry

Finn Russell

“I think I have made the right choice!”

Finn Russell is on a conference call with the great and good of European rugby writers and taking in another day in a plush hotel on the French island of Corsica.

The rain clouds have moved in, this Wednesday afternoon, but the rest of the week has seen Russell and his Racing 92 teammates building up for a Champions Cup final in glorious sunshine.

The question that makes Russell laugh is if he reckons moving from Glasgow Warriors to Racing, last summer, was a good decision. From where he is sitting, and with what he has in store, the Scottish outhalf reckons so. Emphatically.

“When I came to France,” he says, “I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to play with a team that would compete for European Cups. I’ve done that, and we’ve done that. It’s been a great move for me, as a player.”

Finn Russell celebrates following his Racing’s victory in the Champions Cup semi final against Saracens at Paris La Defense Arena. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Racing opted to head to Corsica for the final week of their Champions Cup final preparations. They left several players back in Paris to fulfil their Top 14 fixture obligation – a 30-24 loss to Toulouse, last weekend – but many of the senior squad travelled south to get away from the hustle and bustle, and high Covid-19 cases.

“I don’t think the Covid numbers are as high here as they are in Paris,” Russell notes. “The idea is to leave us in a bubble, here around the team hotel, and as safe as possible. We can have lots more interactions with each other here as there are not as many other factors to worry about.”

Racing have lost two Champions Cup finals in the past five seasons [2016 and 2018] and Russell is keenly aware of the desire within the club to add that first European title to their honours’ board.

Standing in the French side’s way is an Exeter Chiefs side about to contest their first European final. The Chiefs have two Irish players, Ian Whitten and Gareth Steenson, in their squad but Russell is more familiar with their Scottish contingent – Stuart Hogg, Sam Skinner and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who had a short spell at Racing before.

Russell and Hogg have been trading hair gags about each other via the media ever since the final pairing was settled. The outhalf does so again, today, before turning serious when asked if Hogg will know his game inside out.

“He knows what to look for,” Russell admits. “Maybe I might have to use my left foot a couple of times, just to throw him off.”

Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo pictured after a Champions Cup draw with Munster last season. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Racing have some Gallic influence aside from the mercurial Russell. Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan will be vying for starts, on Saturday, while former Munster scrumhalf Mike Prendergast is backs coach for the Parisians.

“Both Donnacha and Zeebs have a lot of experience in Europe. They are both good guys and I get on with them really well. We have a good laugh off the field.

“Myself and Zeebs get on really well and can read each other’s plays when we are out there. We have a good understanding.”

For that league game against Toulouse, Racing started three players that were there from the off in the European semi-final win over Saracens. Olivier Klemenczak, Teddy Thomas and Donnacha Ryan all took to the field at La Defense Arena and, once again, the former Munster lock made his presence felt.

“Donnacha is a really great forward to have. You know he’ll always give it 110% In the big games ,and big moments, he’s the type of guy you need around.

“You might look at him in a game and his face will be cut or opened up, but it’s not going to stop him.”

Russell will return to the Scotland squad on the Monday after the Champions Cup final. Having missed out on Guinness Six Nations action, earlier this year, after a falling out with head coach Gregor Townsend, the outhalf is delighted to be back fielding positive questions about international rugby.

“My focus, right now, is the final but it’s great to be back… It’d be a six day turnaround but, right now, I’m available to play against Wales.”

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