Finn Russell’s absence is a boost for Edinburgh but Racing 92 offer plenty other threats
Calum MacRae spent most of last week plotting a way to stop Finn Russell but the Edinburgh defence coach wasn’t too disappointed when he found out his work had been in vain.
The Racing 92 stand-off is suspended for this weekend’s Champions Cup last-16 clash against the Murrayfield side following his red card for Scotland against France in the Six Nations finale.
MacRae rates the fly-half as “world class” and while his absence should make life slightly easier for Edinburgh in Paris on Sunday, he knows there are other prodigiously talented players in the Racing side, particularly in their backline.
The match at the impressive La Defense Arena is a huge test for the Scottish side but they will be bolstered by the return of their large international contingent.
MacRae is hoping the feelgood factor from last Friday’s win at the Stade de France will rub off on the rest of the Edinburgh squad
“It’s great to have them back,” said MacRae. “They’ve come back with smiles on their faces from last week and it’s a great venue to go to to play in a competition we absolutely love being involved in.”
Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Grant Gilchrist, Rory Sutherland, Dave Cherry, Nick Haining, Simon Berghan, Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham all played their part in Scotland’s Six Nations win but MacRae knows it will require a huge performance if Edinburgh are to emulate the national side by pulling off an upset victory in Paris against Racing’s team of all-stars.
“They’ve got game-breakers, particularly from 13 out,” said MacRae. “Virimi Vakatawa is a guy I know from the sevens - he played consistently for France there - and he’s at the centre of a lot of their attacking play. He’s got a phenomenal step and offload game with the power that he’s got.
“And also when you’ve got the likes of Teddy Thomas, [Juan] Imhoff and Kurtley Beale around him, once he gets his nose through the line or he gets a positive carry, good things tend to happen with those guys interplaying. So it will be really important that we try and reduce the amount of time and space that he has on the ball.
“We respect the threat that they pose and the scenarios that they will challenge you in and the type of ball that they like to play off. It’s just making sure you strangle the game so they don’t get a flow of those opportunities and you reduce the number of times they actually get involved in the game.”
Antoine Gibert is expected to replace Russell at 10 and MacRae will adjust his plans accordingly.
“Finn is on very good form at the moment,” said the Edinburgh coach. “He’s been really influential for Scotland over the Six Nations, and he’s a maverick. He’s one of these people who have game-breaking ability.
“I spent a fair bit of time last week prepping, getting stuff ready for him. We had a strategy to try and counteract Finn playing, but I see now their 10 is likely to be Gibert. He played last week against Bayonne. We’ll just prepare as normal for that.
“Any time that you’ve got a world-class 10 not on the field, it hopefully makes it a slightly more straightforward job for us.”