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Evan Treacy/INPHO Racing 92 out-half Finn Russell.
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Leinster set for Russell's 'full box of tricks' for Racing 92
Hugo Keenan is expecting a big challenge in the backfield this Saturday.

THE LAST TIME most people saw Finn Russell in action, he was making darting runs and flinging sumptuous offloads for Scotland.

His return to Gregor Townsend’s side after a brief exile saw the Scots come close to a first-ever win over New Zealand before they finished their autumn with a convincing victory against Argentina. Russell was superb in that game against the Pumas.

He has been back on duty with Racing 92 since, coming off the bench in a big win over Clermont two weekends ago as the Parisians showed their class.

Like the Top 14 side’s other key men, Russell was rested for last Sunday’s Top 14 clash with Toulon. Despite their weakened selection, Racing won away from home to lift themselves into second in the league.

Russell is expected to be back in the number 10 shirt this weekend in Le Havre as the new Champions Cup campaign kicks off and Leinster know they face a big test in limiting his influence.

Leinster fullback Hugo Keenan has a particular challenge in that regard. 

“You’ve got a bit of x-factor with Finn Russell, he always keeps you on your toes at 15 with his style of play,” says Keenan.

“He has got a full box of tricks, doesn’t he? Whether it’s the passing game, kicking game, or running game, you just have to be majorly aware and constantly looking out for him.

“You can do a lot of prep but a lot of it is instinct as well, feel for what he’s going to do there and then, and cueing up the front line to give you a handout in the backfield.”

Russell is just one of the weapons available to Racing boss Laurent Travers, who will move upstairs as president of the board of the club when Stuart Lancaster joins from Leinster next summer.

“It’s a seriously tough side,” said Keenan. “They’re in good form, I think it’s five [wins] in a row for them. They had a good win at the weekend against Toulon and they’ve a good few lads to come back into the side as well.

leinsters-hugo-keenan Billy Stickland / INPHO Keenan returned from injury last weekend against Ulster. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Like always, going over to France it’s such a tough test and it’s probably one of the toughest ones you can get at the moment.”

Keenan feels it was good timing for Leinster to have to flex their muscles last weekend as they pulled off a stunning comeback against Ulster despite a first-half red card for Cian Healy.

That ensured Leinster continue their 100% record in the URC but Keenan underlines that they need to go up a gear this weekend.

“I suppose we have gotten the quick start to the season that we wanted but there’s definitely work-ons,” he said.

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“When you find yourself that much down after 20 minutes, there’s always definitely things to improve on. We’re definitely not the finished article and have a lot of improving to do. I think we’re going to have to be even better than we were at the weekend to get the win.” 

Whatever about Racing’s strengths, Leinster have plenty of their own. 

Keenan is one of them. He returned from injury with Ireland during the autumn Tests and then made his first Leinster appearance of the season against Ulster last weekend.

Already one of the best fullbacks in rugby, the 26-year-old believes there is huge scope for him to keep getting better.

“There’s a lot, to be honest, you can go through most stuff,” said Keenan. “You have to keep evolving lots of areas of your game – to be a world-class kicker, to get more comfortable on the ball, to play in multiple positions, to be able to step up wherever is needed.

“It’s obviously great to have Goody [Leinster attack coach Andrew Goodman] in this year to get a fresh set of eyes and different opinions on work-ons. Obviously lucky to have great coaching staff in Leinster but Ireland as well who give you different work-ons and things to add to your game.”

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