Scotland's 'honourable' Russell takes Racing 92 past La Rochelle
TOP 14 SATURDAY WRAP: Racing 92 director of rugby Laurent Travers hailed Finn Russell as “honourable” after the Scotland flyhalf kicked an 80th-minute penalty to claim a 39-36 win over La Rochelle in the French Top 14 on Saturday a week before the start of the Six Nations.
Russell, 30, slotted 24 points in all as his club moved up to fourth in the table just seven days out from the Scots’ trip to England for the Calcutta Cup.
“When you see his intensity and commitment tonight, he put Racing 92 as his priority before going with Scotland,” Travers told reporters.
“I find that very honourable from him, and I thank him,” he added.
La Rochelle missed out on the chance to go second despite two superb solo tries from Russell’s opposite number Antoine Hastoy.
Both sides were without usual starters in centre Gael Fickou for Racing and No.8 Gregory Alldritt for La Rochelle away training with France before the start of the Six Nations.
La Rochelle director of rugby Ronan O’Gara served the final match of his 10-week ban for his behaviour towards league officials.
After a very open first quarter the away side led 17-9 as centre Jules Favre and lock Remi Picquette scored tries and Hastoy kicked a penalty as Russell slotted three shots at goal for Racing.
La Rochelle took a healthy lead of 28-16 into the break as fly-half Hastoy broke free from 60m to score. He also added a second penalty.
Racing started the second half strongest and were within two points of the Champions Cup holders with half an hour to play as replacement wing Olivier Klemenczak scored and Russell slotted the conversion and a penalty.
With an hour gone La Rochelle’s Levani Botia was yellow carded for a tip tackle on Russell before the playmaker and Hastoy traded penalties as the visitors led 31-29 with 25 minutes left.
Russell made up for missing a penalty by assisting Klemenczak’s second try with less than 10 minutes to play and his conversion made it 36-31.
That lead lasted barely two minutes before Hastoy replicated Klemenczak’s feat for a double of his own but the flyhalf missed the conversion and the sides were all square 36-36 with five minutes left.
With less than 60 seconds left on the clock Racing won a penalty from a scrum and Russell stepped up to claim a first league victory in more than six weeks.
Earlier, Australian flyhalf Jake McIntyre scored 16 points as bottom club Perpignan surprised in-form Stade Francais 31-24.
McIntyre crossed for a try and added 11 points from the tee as the Catalans won for the first time in eight games, a run dating back to November.
“We won but it’s not over,” McIntyre told reporters.
“It’s a good victory which comes at a good time before going to Brive [next weekend],” he added.
On Sunday, league leaders Toulouse welcome Montpellier without eight players away with France’s Six Nations squad including influential halfbacks Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
The games end a tumultuous week off the field in French rugby after national federation president Bernard Laporte resigned following his conviction of corruption in December.
French Top 14 results on Saturday:
Lyon 34-14 Clermont
Bayonne 37-9 Brive
Toulon 27-16 Pau
Castres 23-18 Bordeaux-Begles
Perpignan 31-24 Stade Francais
Racing92 39-36 La Rochelle
Toulouse v Montpellier (20.05 GMT)