Finn Russell has shed some light on Racing’s frustration and disappointment after being eliminated in the pool stage of the Heineken Champions Cup. The high-spending Parisians have never hidden their ambition to win Europe’s premier tournament. However, after playing three finals in five seasons, the most recent loss to Exeter of 2020, their final season came to a painful end after just four pool games.
The Scottish out-half tried to make up for that disastrous result during the game at the Aviva Stadium: it was his great assist that made the putt Christian Wade for the 48th-minute try that saw Racing 10-7 ahead of Leinster and in possession of the winning line that would have given them the top-eight finish needed to qualify for the round of 16.
That lead on the scoreboard only lasted five minutes, however, and they were then knocked out by a late Leinster electrocution that included three tries in an eight-minute purple spotted spell.
Ten months after his last appearance in Dublin, which was marked by controversy that one of six players was reprimanded by Scotland boss Gregor Townsend for unauthorized bar visits, it was around an hour later the 10-36 loss to Leinster that racing talisman Russell came to the media center to make his contribution to the French club’s decline in the Champions Cup.
“It’s very disappointing for us to be eliminated in the pool stages. As you can imagine, it was very flat in the dressing rooms. I thought we played really well for 65 minutes tonight and then Leinster showed strength in the last 15 minutes.
“It’s very frustrating to be eliminated in the pool stage but if we can manage to play like that in the first 65 minutes for the rest of the season we can do well and hopefully win top 14 and challenge cup. We have a big game next weekend, La Rochelle at home, so we have to focus on the top 14 as much as possible. I don’t know how it all works, the Challenge Cup. I’m not sure, but we’re going to go for it and try to win it.
“The Champions Cup was our main goal after we were in three finals and didn’t manage to win. The team’s main goal is Europe, so to be eliminated in the group stage is frustrating and disappointing.”
Where did Russell, who will play at Bath next season, blame the French club’s deflationary exit? “The first game against Leinster was 42-10 and we didn’t show what we can do as a team and in the game against Harlequins we were pretty bad there too.
“The character and heart that we showed there today, if we had done that in the first two games we could have been in a different situation today but the damage was done in the first two rounds.”
With just two weeks to go, Russell hopes to be in far better spirits after the game than he was in Dublin. Scotland will play England in the opening round of the Guinness at Twickenham Six Nations and the experienced fighter will go to this camp alongside the test novice Ben Healythe Irish Out-Half from Munster who have chosen to represent Scotland.
“I don’t know him at all,” Russell admitted. “I’ve talked a little with Mike (Prendergast, the current Munster assistant who has worked at Racing) and he’s a good guy so I’m looking forward to getting to know him and working with him over the next six, seven weeks.
“There’s always competition and Ben, who comes from Munster, will bring a different perspective on the game and how we can play it. It will be good to work and learn from him and work together which is something we can try and build on in the Scotland squad.
Leinster boss Leo Cullen was understandably in a happier mood than Russell after Saturday’s Champions Cup tie. His team pulled away in the end and sealed the win that secured them No. 1 in Pool A for the knockout stages.
“You always have to be very respectful,” he said of racing. “It definitely didn’t feel like a 26-point win. We had a few opportunities early but just snapped at things, not quite accurate enough, a bit slow on some of our jerk arrivals.
“To their credit, Racing was very courageous on the defensive. You’ve seen how aggressive they were, their chop tackles that got guys down quickly which meant they had players on the ball quickly and made some big turnovers at different stages. They were a constant threat, you couldn’t switch off for a second.”