A DEFENCE coach’s life is certainly made a lot easier when he does not have to work out a way to stop Finn Russell.

But Edinburgh assistant Calum MacRae is all too well aware that Racing 92 remain a formidable side even without the Scotland playmaker, and knows his team will need to be at the top of their game if they are to win Sunday’s last-16 Champions Cup tie.

After being sent off in last week’s Six Nations finale against France, Russell will serve the first instalment of his three-match suspension against Edinburgh. McRae, whose meticulous preparation has been a vital if underestimated element of his team’s improvement in recent seasons, had already begun to formulate his plans for coping with the stand-off. 

Those plans will need tweaked now that Russell’s understudy Antoine Gibert is likely to take over in the No 10 jersey, but, as MacRae explained, 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.”

Meanwhile, Edinburgh have been awarded four match points after PRO14 organisers decided their outstanding game against Benetton need not be played. The match, which was postponed after a positive Covid test in the Italian camp, was the only fixture yet to be played in this season’s league programme.

The result is immaterial as far as the league table is concerned, with Richard Cockerill's side finishing fifth in Conference B, while Benetton, who got zero points, are sixth and last. “Having consulted with all stakeholders involved, there was unanimous agreement that it was not necessary for the game to be played,” a statement from PRO14 explained. 

“As a result, PRO14 Rugby will use the protocol decided prior to the 2020/21 season whereby a game that could not be rescheduled would result in the fixture being deemed a 0-0 draw, but four match points would be awarded to the team who had not been the cause of the postponement."This protocol ensures that no artificial scoring points were added to the tries/points for and against columns. As a result, Edinburgh rugby’s match points total for the campaign will read as 29."