Finn Russell stars as Racing 92 win Heineken Champions Cup opener

Finn Russell inspired Racing 92 to a resounding 45-14 Heineken Champions Cup victory at Franklin's Gardens, where Northampton emerged as willing victims for the Parisians.

Finn Russell of Racing 92 is tackled by Api Ratuniyarawa (R) and Nick Auterac during the Heineken Champions Cup win over Northampton Saints. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Finn Russell of Racing 92 is tackled by Api Ratuniyarawa (R) and Nick Auterac during the Heineken Champions Cup win over Northampton Saints. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Aided by Saints' alarming vulnerability in defence, the Scotland fly-half conjured two tries for Juan Imhoff and one for Wenceslas Lauret in a first half Racing finished 28-7 ahead.

The visitors sit eighth in the Top 14 table but there was no sign of their domestic strife as Russell linked brilliantly with Australia full-back Kurtley Beale to torment a disappointing Northampton.

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Another moment of magic from the Lions playmaker helped Lauret to his hat-trick in the second half as Saints endured a chastening evening on which they were beaten in all departments by the three-time finalists.

In total, the Gallagher Premiership's third-placed team leaked five tries on the opening day of the 2021-22 Champions Cup to significantly damage their chances of reaching the knockout phase.

Courtney Lawes was missing after it was revealed before kick-off that he was to sit out a second game because of Covid-19, but even the presence of England's stand-in captain would have made little impact.

It looked bleak as early as the opening eight minutes when Racing surged 13-0 ahead, launching their assault with two Maxime Machenaud penalties before crossing through Lauret.

The second row was the beneficiary of frail Saints defending and dazzling interplay between Russell and Beale, who exploited a large gap around the ruck.

Saints exerted some pressure for the first time, but they were scrappy as a poor pass to George Furbank hit the ground and Racing seized the opportunity to pour downfield.

Russell and Beale were pulling the strings to deadly effect, but once more it was Northampton's defence that was at fault as the Parisians engineered a second try when the Scot sent Imhoff racing over.

Saints eventually came alive on the half-hour mark when a period of attack reached the critical moment as Lewis Ludlam held the ball up close to the touchline and fed Matt Proctor, whose smart kick was touched down by Courtnall Skosan.

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Any fightback hinged upon building on the try, but instead Racing plundered their third and, as before, it was a combination of Russell's magic and a Northampton lapse in concentration that led to the score.

A maul did the initial damage as the home pack were sent hurtling backwards and Russell pulled the trigger by firing a long pass to Beale, who presented Imhoff with a simple run-in.

And the second half had barely started when Russell set off on a classy run that teed up a second try for Lauret via an off-load over the top.

Northampton hit back when Fraser Dingwall reached out to touch down, but they still trailed 38-14 heading into the final quarter and, when Gael Fickou burst through the midfield for Lauret to complete his hat-trick, the floodgates were opening.

Ludlam had a try ruled out for a dubious block by Ollie Sleightholme as part of a strong finish from the home side, but Racing were already out of sight.

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