FINN Russell will be a conspicuous absentee from the Racing 92 ranks when they take on Edinburgh on Friday night, but the Scottish team’s defence coach Calum MacRae still expects his players to be subjected to a stern test.
After being sent off while playing for Scotland against France in last Friday’s Six Nations match, Russell will serve the first part of his three-match suspension against Edinburgh. MacRae had already begun his preparations for coping with the stand-off, and although those plans may need tweaked somewhat now that Russell’s understudy Antoine Gibert is likely to take over at 10, the Edinburgh assistant is sure there will be no need to jettison them entirely.
“Finn is on very good form at the moment,” he said. “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, and then the red card came. 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, but I can’t see their game changing too much.
“They’ve got game-breakers particularly from 13 out. Virimi Vakatawa is a guy I know from the 7s – 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 there, 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.”
Vakatawa was unusually quiet against Scotland last week, and Edinburgh can be expected to draw lessons from how the visiting defence played in that game. But, as MacRae added, they can also take heart from their own recent performances against French sides in European competition.
“I think we’ve got form against French teams the last two or three years in the competition,” he said. “By and large we’ve had some good defensive performances in those big games, so we just go back to what we’re about. 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.
“It’s just what we can control. We’re in charge of the type of ball that we kick to them, we’re also in charge of how well prepped we are round their strike plays from what they’ve done previously. So we just take the right sort of quality going into the game of really high-quality preparation.”