Argentinian wing Juan Imhoff scored one of Racing 92's four tries being set up by a clever cross-kick from Finn Russell
Paris (AFP) - Centre Francis Saili said Finn Russell’s “bag of tricks” were key after the Scotland fly-half scored 18 points in Racing 92’s 38-31 home win over Top 14 champions Montpellier on Saturday in his first game since being omitted from his country’s squad for the autumn Tests.
On Wednesday, coach Gregor Townsend left the 30-year-old fly-half out of his set-up for games against Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina based on “consistency”.
Racing’s victory, thanks to Russell’s contributions, sends the 2016 winners up to fifth after just four wins from eight matches this term.
“He’s got a bag of tricks, he always brings the magic. He was awesome tonight,” Saili told reporters.
“Everyone was surprised with him not being included in the team.
“Finn’s got other priorities, with his baby due in the next few weeks, so he’s got other things to focus on than the Scotland squad,” the ex-New Zealand centre added.
Russell, who is out of contract next summer, made his eighth straight start of the season for the Parisians after being rested for his country’s July Test series defeat against the Pumas.
Outside Russell was captain and centre Gael Fickou who is set to be unavailable for his club until late November due to his commitments with France’s three Test matches next month.
Montpellier director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre made six changes from last weekend’s surprising home defeat to Lyon, a third successive loss this term for the defending champions.
The sides were all-square 3-3 after 17 minutes as Russell responded to Louis Carbonel’s earlier penalty.
Centre Thomas Darmon then scored for the visitors on 20 minutes before Racing took control.
Fiji No 8 Kitione Kamikamica bundled over from a rolling maul and Saili crossed thanks to a Russell pass to make it 18-10 at the break.
Russell kicked a second penalty and converted Kamikamica’s try to cross the 75-point mark for the season.
After the interval, the former Glasgow Warriors playmaker was involved in his club’s third and fourth tries by off-loading to Baptiste Chouzenoux who set up Donovan Taofifenua and then cross-kicking to Argentina winger Juan Imhoff.
Russell was successful with one of the two touchline conversions as the Parisians led 32-10 with half an hour to play.
- Long-range penalties -
Finn Russell set up Juan Imhoff for his 106th Racing 92 try
The gap was closed to 32-24 as former New Zealand 7s winger Ben Lam pounced and Darmon claimed the first double of his career.
Russell then kicked a penalty from 50 metres before England No 8 Zach Mercer went over from short range to set up a tense final nine minutes with four points between the sides.
Racing held on as Russell’s slotted a three-pointer from 55 metres. A fourth straight defeat for Saint-Andre’s leaves them in ninth spot ahead of the weekend’s other matches.
Later, Arnaud Mela lost his first game in charge of Brive since replacing the sacked Jeremy Davidson as they were humbled 27-0 at Stade Francais.
South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe crossed for a second time this season as Toulon beat Castres 28-20 and later Clermont’s Fijian-born winger Alivereti Raka celebrates his first call up to France’s set-up since December 2020 as they play Bordeaux-Begles.
On Sunday, there is a repeat of 2021’s domestic and European Champions Cup finals as Toulouse, who have a leading nine players in Les Bleus’ squad, welcome La Rochelle.