World News – CA – Allan Massie: There is no doubt that Stuart Hogg is currently the best full-back in Lions countries


Magnus Bradbury’s omission raised a few eyebrows, as did the inclusion of Blair Cowan after a four-year hiatus It appears Cowan is a beneficiary of the breaking law – a revision to which many players have not yet adapted their game, judging by the large number of penalties that all teams concede Hopefully they will do it quickly. No one wants to see even three or four times more penalty goals than tries in a game, let alone the nine penalties Leigh Halfpenny threw for Scarlets against Munster. Cowan, however, appears to have responded effectively to the review; hence his return to the fold

As for Bradbury, we hope we give him a message There remains a player whose potential exceeds his performance No one doubts his ability to have an effect on a match What seems to be at stake is a tendency to drift out of games I’ve long thought he might be as important to Edinburgh and Scotland as Peter O’Mahony is to Munster and Ireland But no one, I guess, ever accused O ‘Mahony of being missing for 80 minutes

Meanwhile, today’s Champions Cup final, last season’s final club game, is a tantalizing prospect, and not just because, with Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray of a side and Finn Russell on the other there is more Scottish interest than has generally been the case Hogg and Russell are also on the shortlist of five for the European Player of the Year award, the winner will be announced this evening Both have thrived since moving from Glasgow, as I would expect Gray to do as well, and while we may wonder what Glasgow could have achieved in the past two years had they stayed with the club, there can be no doubt that the change has been good for the players Even the English scribes who were keen to identify the defensive weaknesses in Hogg’s game are now enthusiastic about his game, and there is no doubt that he is currently the rear side except ional in Lions countries

The move to Paris was good for Finn He succeeded in club rugby in France like Jonny Wilkinson did and Johnny Sexton did not In Glasgow, he often played like a genius, sometimes like a silly Now he’s matured Like all the greatest fly half-flies I’ve seen from Jack Kyle to Dan Carter, he now knows how to wait and choose his moment When his delicious chip-kick finds a space between two lines of the defense of the Saracens and created the test that secured Racing 92’s place in today’s final, he was asked why he waited until the 75th minute before trying it

His response was instructive: « In this kind of match you only have one or two chances to pull off this ploy You don’t want to try too early, because you risk losing the surprise So for 70 minutes we are past and past When we decided that the chip was on, the Saracens were no longer looking for it « 

It was of course, as he explained, something they had done time and time again in practice Virimi Vakatawa, No.13, who got the kick back and then returned to Russell , did what he had done several times on the training ground It was, Finn said, a move they had « pretty well mastered »

Exeter will be the favorites this afternoon, partly because the game is played in England and not in France, and partly because they are the best team in England when Racing is not quite up to it. made the best of France, probably not as good as Toulouse who beat Exeter in the semi-final In this match they were late at half-time, then more or less completely refused Toulouse any ball during the first 20 minutes of the second half

All the same, although Exeter are, it is absurd to say, like former English scrum-half Matt Dawson, that they are « big favorites » if Racing does not give penalties allowing the excellent Joe Simmonds to put the ball in touch a few yards from the try line thus giving his attackers the chance to do what they do better than any other team in Europe so it could be a game very even Both teams can strike from a distance and, if Stuart Hogg scores outstanding tries, so does Vakatawa Finn says he’s « the best # 13 on the planet – there’s no argument about that »

Stuart Hogg, Rugby union, Racing 92, European Rugby Champions Cup, Finn Russell, Exeter Chiefs, Scotland, Gregor Townsend, British and Irish Lions

World News – CA – Allan Massie: There’s no question that Stuart Hogg is currently the best full-back in Lions countries


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