Finn Russell eyes Heineken Champions Cup final as he posits theory on French dominance

With France supplying three of the four semi-finalists in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup it was no surprise to hear Finn Russell extolling the virtues of the Top 14.

Finn Russell in action for Racing 92 against Sale Sharks. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Finn Russell in action for Racing 92 against Sale Sharks. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Scotland stand-off was in superlative form last weekend as he helped Racing 92 defeat Sale in the quarter-finals and they will face La Rochelle in the last four in Lens on Sunday (3pm BST).

The match is free to air in the UK, with Channel 4 screening live coverage as Racing look to reach their fourth final in seven seasons.

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The men from Paris have yet to lift European club rugby’s premier prize, losing in the final to Saracens (2016), Leinster (2018) and Exeter Chiefs (2020).

Russell played in the latter but feels French rugby has now moved ahead of the English game, claiming the suspension of relegation in the Gallagher Premiership may have taken the edge off the club scene south of the border.

“In the Premiership just now, there’s no relegation. Over here, teams are scrapping to stay out of that relegation battle – scrapping to stay up, or get into the Champions Cup,” Russell said.

“There are never any easy games. Every game, you have to play your best to win. This year, we’ve lost to Biarritz and Perpignan, who are at the bottom of the league.”

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Racing 92's Finn Russell was in try-scoring form during the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Sale Sharks. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Racing and La Rochelle have never met in the Champions Cup but there have been plenty of local dust-ups and Russell expects the match against last season’s beaten finalists to be a step up from Sale.

“It’s probably going to be even harder,” said the Scot, who scored one wonder try and set up another against the Sharks. “We have already played La Rochelle a few times this year, and last year they beat us in the semi-finals of the Top 14. We know them, we will have to prepare well.”

There are no Premiership teams in the last four for the second year running, but Leinster are flying the flag for Irish rugby and the URC as the only non-French semi-finalists. Leo Cullen’s side host holders Toulouse at the Aviva on Saturday (3pm) and Leinster are aiming to match their opponents’ record of five European titles by reclaiming a trophy they last won in 2018.

They beating Leicester away in the quarter-finals but Toulouse, fired by world player of the year and France’s Grand Slam-winning captain Antoine Dupont, also showed their quality through a penalty shoot-out victory over Munster after an epic tie ended 24-24.

“Toulouse have a lot of quality, with the ability to score from anywhere on the pitch. They keep the ball alive and play after contact,” Leinster centre Garry Ringrose told www.epcrugby.com.

“Playing against Toulouse – a club with a rich European history, the only team with five stars on their shirt – will be a test against the very best in Europe.”

The semi-finals of the Challenge Cup throw up two Anglo-French clashes on Saturday, with Lyon and Wasps – Glasgow and Edinburgh’s conquerors, respectively – facing each other at Matmut Stade de Gerland in the early game (12.30pm BST), and Toulon v Saracens meeting in the evening (8pm BST) at Stade Félix Mayol.

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