Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend believes star backs Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell are rediscovering their top form at a perfect time with the start of the Six Nations less than two weeks away.
The Scotland full-back and stand-off were back to close to their best on Saturday as Glasgow bowed out of the European Champions Cup on a positive note with a 22-5 win over runaway pool winners Racing 92 at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Hogg scored Warriors’ try with a classic dynamic full-back burst into the line and Russell both controlled the game and found the kicking boots which seem to have been mislaid in recent weeks.
“Stuart looked sharp throughout the game,” said Townsend. “His handling and some of his pick-ups were very good. He did well last week [at Northampton] and he has been training well too.
“These guys have had some challenges coming back from the RWC. It’s hard when you have lived that way for four or five months, you have disappointment at the end and you have to go back to a club environment.
“Stuart has had challenges with having a baby as well, so it’s great that he has come through that. What a boost for Scotland as well to have guys on form.
“Last week was an important game for Finn. He didn’t kick well in the warm-up, but he fixed that.
“I thought he played well as the game went on last week and he was excellent from the start this week.”
An impressive 9,063 showed up in the lashing rain at the re-arranged venue – a European record for Glasgow – despite the fact that only the wildest of optimists retained any hope that the Warriors could make the quarter-finals and that superstar Dan Carter was rested for the already qualified French plutocrats.
A number of Racing’s frontline players remained in Paris with the All Blacks legend but such is the French club’s riches that it was still a strong side they put out and, taking in all the caveats, this was still a good scalp for Glasgow to take heading into the rest of the season.
The heavy downpour dictated a fairly one-dimensional first half, which Glasgow edged and led 3-0 at half-time thanks to Russell’s early penalty.
The rain cleared for the start of the second half and heralded a more open and entertaining contest. Russell had not long doubled the lead from the tee when centre Alex Dunbar limped off after feeling tightness in the hamstring which recently kept him out for a number of weeks.
That will be a concern for Scotland but Glasgow kept their minds on the job at hand and five minutes later got the try which put some daylight between them and the visitors.
Russell’s pass found Hogg in space thanks to an expertly executed dummy run by centre Sam Johnson and the full-back raced over. His stand-off added the extras to make it 13-0 before departing to be replace by Edinburgh-bound Duncan Weir, who was cheered loudly by the crowd on his 100th appearance for the Warriors.
The Achilles heel of the driving maul struck again as Cedate Gomes Sa finished off a French surge to the line to reduce the deficit, but the conversion went wide and Weir finished the job with a couple of penalties.
Russell spoke afterwards of his satisfaction at posting his best performance for a while.
“It’s been quite frustrating for me as I’ve not really been on my form since the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old. “I don’t know what’s been going wrong but the last few games I’ve been getting better and better and today my kicking was on form
“It’s not been good in Europe or the league so that was good for me.
“It’s hard to say what it is. Boys come in and out of form all the time and I hope it stays for the next two months.”
Russell joined up with his Scotland squad mates at St Andrews yesterday and said: “It will be good to get up there and get into that.
“As players we hope and we expect not to lose five games. But it’s difficult and there are a lot of changes this year, England have a new coaching staff in and that’s first game up.
“That will be difficult to plan for but we’ll just focus on what we know we can do.”