Northampton boss Chris Boyd has described Scotland star Finn Russell as “a bit of a magician” ahead of Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Racing 92.
Saints host the French heavyweights in what should be an intriguing contest, with Boyd’s team looking to make an immediate statement.
And while Racing’s recent domestic form is poor – three successive Top 14 defeats since beating Toulouse last month – their European pedigree is unquestioned.
Although the Parisians have not won the tournament, they are three-time finalists and reached the knockout phase seven times in the last eight seasons.
There are star names sprinkled through the Racing squad, but none more influential than fly-half Russell, who has a world-class ability to unlock opposition defences.
“You know, for a quarterback or a 10, often the ride that they get from the guys from one to eight makes a significant difference,” Northampton rugby director Boyd said.
“So, you know, front-foot ball and the speed of the ball in territories, there are a whole load of factors in that.
“But Russell is obviously a bit of a magician, and when he is on his game, he can cast a pretty wicked spell.
“They are chock-full of quality individuals, and so that means if they get their game right they are potentially a fantastic side.
“We’ve got to find ways to impose ourselves on the game, try and control parts of the game and try and control momentum.
“And probably more importantly, when we get some opportunities, we’ve got to try and nail them and put some pressure on.
The @ChampionsCup returns to cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Friday 🏆
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) December 6, 2021
“We are not fooling ourselves – it’s going to be a big ask – but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Northampton’s Gallagher Premiership form has proved solid enough to send them into Europe holding on to third place, having racked up 76 points in seeing off Bristol and Bath during the past fortnight.
Europe, though, has proved a mixed bag, with one quarter-final appearance in their last four campaigns.
“If we can put our best side out, or close to our best side, we think we are in with the hunt,” Boyd added.
— Racing 92 (@racing92) December 7, 2021
“There will be some twists and turns over the next four or five months undoubtedly before the final, and I doubt that the two teams on paper or the two teams on form will end up as the two teams that play in the final.
“For us, if we can stay fit and healthy, then I think we’ve got our best chance.
“We know that if you want to have a chance in the competition, you’ve probably got to do reasonably well in your home matches to pick up some valuable points.
“If we are serious about being a contender, then you have probably got to win your games at home.”