Finn Russell: Ring-fenced Premiership could be hampering English teams in Europe

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell believes that the added factor of relegation in the Top 14 gives French teams an extra advantage over their Premiership rivals.

For the second season in succession three clubs from France made the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup, with no English sides reaching the last-four stage once again.

Racing ended the hopes of the Premiership when they dispatched Sale Sharks 41-22 at the Paris La Defense Arena on Sunday.

Due to the financial pressures caused by the pandemic England’s top-tier has been ring-fenced, but Russell insists that the decision to end relegation could have done more harm than good.

Makes games harder

“In the Premiership just now, there’s no relegation,” he told reporters. “Over here, teams are scrapping at the bottom because they want to stay in the Top 14.

“Whether they’re at home or away, it makes games much harder. They will do everything they can to stay up.

“For me, playing at Racing, we’re not down at the bottom, but when you play those teams they are fighting as hard as they can so the level of games over here is great – great but tough.”

Apart from Biarritz, who have been cut adrift, the Top 14 is highly competitive throughout, whereas Newcastle, Worcester and Bath have picked up just 15 wins between them at the bottom of the Premiership.

There are 27 points separating ninth placed Wasps from the Falcons, who reside in 11th, and although it is tight for the play-offs and Champions Cup positions, there has been a lack of fight at times from those in the lower reaches of England’s top-tier.

“There are never any easy games here (in France),” Russell said. “Every game, you have to play your best to win. This year, we’ve lost to Biarritz and Perpignan, who are at the bottom of the league.

“That just shows that whether teams are high up or low down, every game is massive. Every week you are playing in a must-win game because if you drop two points, it puts you in a tough position. That’s a great thing for us.”

Russell also praised the style of rugby in France. The Top 14 teams often solely focused on physicality in the past but that has changed and there is now far more variety in the league, according to the Scotland fly-half.

“It’s different – the Top 14 compared to the Premiership or the URC. The style of rugby changes from team to team, but also from competition to competition. In the Top 14 there’s physicality, there’s flair, there’s strategy; there’s everything you want here,” he added.

READ MORE: Two-leg Champions Cup format scrapped as fixtures are confirmed for 2022/23 European season

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