Scotland stars Hogg and Russell face off in Champions Cup final
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London (AFP) –
An Anglo-French European Champions Cup final could be decided by Scottish talent when Finn Russell looks to guide Paris-based Racing 92 to victory over an Exeter side featuring old friend Stuart Hogg on Saturday.
The match in Bristol will be the first time the Scotland stars have played XVs rugby against each other since they were teenagers.
Both fly-half Russell and full-back Hogg have reputations as game-breakers who can open up the tightest defences.
"Finn is an absolutely unbelievable talent and I think at this minute he is one of the best 10s in the world," said Hogg.
"I don't think I have ever, other than playing under-14s, played against Finn Russell. I think back then he had a leopard-print haircut!"
The hairstyle may have been toned down but the 28-year-old Russell's flair remains intact, as he demonstrated with the decisive moment of a semi-final victory over Saracens when he combined with centre Virimi Vakatawa to set up a match-winning try for Juan Imhoff.
But Russell accepts he may have to try something different against Hogg, a dynamic runner.
- 'Throw him off' -
"I know what attacking threats he has got and maybe we can target him in defence or in the air. Maybe I'll play with my left foot this weekend to try and throw him off a little bit."
English Premiership side Exeter's pack features another Scottish star in second row Jonny Gray.
"I am chatting to the (Racing) boys and saying Hoggy might defend like this and Jonny is great at carrying the ball -- but I imagine they'll be doing the same for me," said Russell.
It is perhaps no surprise that players of the calibre of Russell and Hogg felt they had to leave Scotland to further their careers.
The 2007 demise of the Borders, a team based in Scottish rugby's heartland, left Scotland with just two professional clubs in Glasgow -- known as a football city -- and Edinburgh, meaning a greatly reduced player pool.
That makes challenging for top honours extremely difficult.
The last time Scotland won the then Five Nations was in 1999, while Edinburgh's 22-19 semi-final loss to Ulster in 2012 is the only time a Scottish club has reached the last four of European club rugby union's premier tournament.
With both Edinburgh and Glasgow bankrolled by the Scottish Rugby Union, they simply cannot compete with the salaries on offer in England and France, where several clubs are funded by wealthy benefactors.
Russell is being paid a reported £800,000 ($1 million) a year at a Racing side backed by billionaire businessman Jacky Lorenzetti, with Hogg joining an Exeter side who are looking to complete an English and European title double this season.
"These are the games as a kid you wanted to pick up a rugby ball for," said Hogg. "You want to be involved in these massive games and to be the best."
© 2020 AFP