Edinburgh & Glasgow Warriors face French tests as European cups resume

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Richard Cockerill and Danny Wilson have overseen challenging campaigns at their respective clubs

Days after Scotland’s Six Nations championship ended on a wave of chaos and euphoria in Paris, their professional teams return to France gunning for European quarter-final places.

Edinburgh tackle the mighty Racing 92, home of Finn Russell, in the Champions Cup last 16.

Glasgow Warriors face troubled Montpellier in the Challenge Cup as a bruising season nears its climax.

These are the storylines as Scotland’s players renew their French rivalries.

The missing men

Racing will be without their Scottish matador as Russell serves a three-week ban after charging forearm-first into Brice Dulin’s neck last Friday night.

The Parisians are a diminished force with Russell gone, for he is their string-puller and a huge leader, but they are still brimming with dangermen.

And Edinburgh may not be able to call upon their full compliment of Scotland players either.

Scottish Rugby has rest protocols for its internationals and those who have had particularly heavy Six Nations workloads are likely to be rested this weekend.

Hamish Watson, in particular, got through an incredible volume of grunt work and his body must be tender. Rory Sutherland came off with some kind of shoulder damage against France. Duhan van der Merwe has played every game.

Edinburgh’s challenge

Russell or not, it is a mountainous task for Edinburgh to unseat Racing on their own patch.

Backed by the millions of president Jacky Lorenzetti, Laurent Travers has assembled a squad of insane riches. And unlike some Top 14 sides, who sign huge names for the prestige rather than how they will fit their style, culture and team, Racing’s group is smartly conducted.

They have Virimi Vakatawa, the bruising France centre, who is among world rugby’s greatest strike runners.

Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo is one of many attacking dangers in the Racing 92 backline

They have Juan Imhoff, Simon Zebo and Teddy Thomas as options out wide, and the Australian play-maker Kurtley Beale weaving his magic from full-back.

Travers can chuck in Bernard le Roux, the industrious France lock, and his international team-mate, the absurdly muscular hooker Camille Chat, alongside a host of Test players up front.

Racing are third in the Top 14, seven points off the summit, and were runners-up to Exeter Chiefs in a ferociously contested Champions Cup final last year. Their aim is to go one better this term and Edinburgh will have to deliver the performance of a lifetime to stop them.

What about Glasgow?

Warriors, too, will be shorn of some key men. Ali Price played every minute of that see-sawing affair in Paris, Zander Fagerson 73 minutes, while George Turner and Sam Johnson put in fine shifts. Scott Cummings is already out with a hand injury.

There is more encouraging news from Scotstoun, though. George Horne made a try-scoring return from his foot problem against Benetton on Saturday, while riveting young duo Rufus McLean and Jamie Dobie will be back after training with Scotland.

George Horne scores a try for Glasgow Warriors against Benetton
George Horne returned from nearly four months out to score for Glasgow Warriors against Benetton

Fraser Brown and Richie Gray, two immensely experienced forwards, are a couple of games into their respective injury comebacks.

And maybe – judging by the club co-captain’s social media – Ryan Wilson’s hangover from an unlikely and glorious 50th cap in France might just have lifted.

And their opposition?

Montpellier have been in a rotten state of affairs this season. The club’s 11th-place standing is a meek reflection of their vast wealth and a squad stacked with French internationals and South African juggernauts.

Xavier Garbajosa was sacked as head coach in January. Experienced Philippe Saint-Andre has the reins for now and Franck Azema, the long-standing Clermont boss, will take charge next season.

They will tool up for that and expect to be far higher than their current placing, but they still have some serious operators in their arsenal.

In fact, Montpellier beat depleted league leaders Toulouse away from home on Sunday, with England pivot Alex Lozowski scoring 16 points.

But in the here and now, they are scrapping for Top 14 survival, and it is unlikely Montpellier will invest much in a Challenge Cup last-16 tie.

Win in Paris would be Cockerill’s ‘best’ – analysis

Former Edinburgh, Stade Francais and Scotland full-back Hugo Southwell

If Edinburgh beat Racing in Paris it would be the biggest result of Richard Cockerill’s four-year tenure, because of where they’re at, the uncertainty with players coming in and out with Scotland, and with injuries. It’s very unsettling as a coach.

Finn Russell will be a big loss for Racing. He has been as good as any player in the world over the last two years – I’d go that far. He’s one of the best 10s Racing have ever had. But let’s not forget that he’s been away with Scotland for the last two months, which negates that a bit.

Glasgow will have to take it to this Montpellier side. They’ve been under pressure for a long time and sitting 11th is not where they’re used to being. Glasgow, from the off, have to put them under pressure. Do that, and the doubts will creep in. There will be confidence in that Glasgow side after scoring six tries against Benetton, and games like these can turn around a season.



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