After a barnstorming Guinness Six Nations, Finn Russell is back in club colours as his Racing 92 side prepare for this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Toulouse.
The fly-half starts at 10 in the all-French affair at the Paris La Defense Arena on Sunday, with a place in the final four at stake.
The 26-year old started four of his side’s five Guinness Six Nations matches, missing only Scotland’s defeat in France, and was awarded man-of-the-match honours in his side’s remarkable 38-38 draw with England in Round Six.
Still in his maiden season with Racing after making the move across the channel from Glasgow Warriors at the conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign, Russell has been making waves in Paris, instrumental in both his team’s Top 14 efforts as well as their so-far successful European jaunt.
A monster clash awaits this weekend, however, with Top 14 runaway leaders Toulouse the visitors to Racing’s recognisably roofed home, and his teammates will no doubt look to Russell to provide the necessary creative spark.
The question of whether the half-back is in form is not in doubt – in fact, he improved throughout the Guinness Six Nations, with his hugely diverse skillset on show for all to see.
Arguably the perfect fly-half, Russell is equally comfortable in his distribution with either the boot or the hand, with his kicking and passing ranges up there with the best.
In Scotland’s impressive Round One bonus point victory over Italy, Russell dictated play with both, setting up Blair Kinghorn with a perfectly-placed cross-field kick before demonstrating his versatility with a tempting grubber through to find Stuart Hogg for the score.
He grabbed a third assist in the Round Two defeat to Ireland, this time highlighting his peerless vision and nous.
Picking off a rogue Joey Carbery pass, Russell darted towards the line before recognising the attentions of Keith Earls, instead waiting until the last minute before shifting to Sam Johnson who did the rest.
But it was arguably the final game of the Championship where Russell truly came into his own.
After a placid first-half display, it was reportedly Russell who sparked things in the Scotland dressing room at Twickenham during the break.
The fly-half admitted after the match to sharing some heated words with head coach Gregor Townsend, emphasising another string to his bow: his leadership qualities.
What happened next will go down in folklore – six tries without reply and Russell involved throughout in a performance that captured in microcosm all that is good about the mercurial half-back.
Russell scored one, assisted another and set up a third with a long-range pass to Sean Maitland.
Tallying nine points of his own, Russell’s kicking was by no means limited to the goal as he unleashed 16 for a total distance of 545.3m, while also carrying for an average gain of 11.6m.
For his try, it was his vision that again came to the forefront, intercepting an Owen Farrell pass in an eerie echo of the Ireland game, but this time he went all the way himself.
It was a performance that had many – including Racing fans – salivating, while Jeremy Guscott was unequivocal in his praise of the Stirling native.
“He is entertainment,” said Guscott.
“He is box office. He reminds me of my old British and Irish Lions team-mate and his Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who could frustrate you one moment and have you jumping up and down with a moment of brilliance the next.
“Mistakes are an inevitable consequence of the way he plays but when he manages to squeeze out some of the errors out of his game, he will be an even better player.”
Russell has been largely without mistakes during 2019, and while it may be a big ask for his Racing side to topple the juggernaut that is Toulouse, with Russell leading the way and providing a vital fulcrum, they will likely have as good a chance as any.