Racing 92 have denied England captain Owen Farrell is close to joining the Top 14 club.

The Saracens fly-half, who is missing the Six Nations to look after his mental heath, is reportedly poised for a move to France.

Racing 92 are coached by former England chief Stuart Lancaster, who gave Farrell his international debut in 2012.

A Racing statement said: “Racing 92 is regularly under the aegis of numerous speculations concerning movements within its workforce.

“We are delighted with the appeal of our club Racing 92. However, we deny any agreement concerning the English player Owen Farrell.”

Farrell became England’s leading points scorer at the World Cup and is reportedly out of contract at Saracens at the end of the season.

The 32-year-old has spent all of his career at the club but could now make a surprise move to France.

He has also given England coach Steve Borthwick no indication he plans to return. Farrell is also likely to be unavailable for the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.

“We are all hopeful Owen will return to the England team at some point soon, but that’s going to be a decision Owen makes,” Borthwick said.

“Owen and I spoke right at the end of the World Cup. We were actually in Paris. We took a walk and he shared some of his thoughts and what he was thinking at that point in time.

“Then he took a period of reflecting and we met a couple of weeks later and he told me of his decision to step away. He expressed some of his feelings, which is clearly a confidential conversation.

“The first thing I’ll say there is I’m full of admiration for this guy – as a man, a player and a leader. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s done.”

Saracens have been approached for comment.

England captain Owen Farrell is close to joining Top 14 club Racing 92, according to reports.

The Saracens fly-half, who is missing the Six Nations to look after his mental heath, is reportedly poised for a move to France.

Racing 92 are coached by former England chief Stuart Lancaster, who gave Farrell his international debut in 2012.

Farrell became England’s leading points scorer at the World Cup and is reportedly out of contract at Saracens at the end of the season.

The 32-year-old has spent all of his career at the club but could now make a surprise move to France.

He has also given England coach Steve Borthwick no indication he plans to return.

Farrell is also likely to be unavailable for the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.

“We are all hopeful Owen will return to the England team at some point soon, but that’s going to be a decision Owen makes,” Borthwick said.

“Owen and I spoke right at the end of the World Cup. We were actually in Paris. We took a walk and he shared some of his thoughts and what he was thinking at that point in time.

“Then he took a period of reflecting and we met a couple of weeks later and he told me of his decision to step away. He expressed some of his feelings, which is clearly a confidential conversation.

“The first thing I’ll say there is I’m full of admiration for this guy – as a man, a player and a leader. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s done.”

Saracens have been approached for comment.

Owen Farrell’s future with England remains uncertain after Steve Borthwick revealed he has been given no indication by his captain that he plans to return.

Farrell will miss at least the Six Nations in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing following last autumn’s World Cup in France, during which the Saracens fly-half was repeatedly booed by supporters at games.

With Farrell also likely to be unavailable for the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand, there is the possibility that the bronze final victory over Argentina in November was the 32-year-old’s final Test for England.

When asked if Farrell will play for England again, Borthwick replied: “I’m really hopeful he does.

“We are all hopeful Owen will return to the England team at some point soon, but that’s going to be a decision Owen makes.

“Owen and I spoke right at the end of the World Cup. We were actually in Paris. We took a walk and he shared some of his thoughts and what he was thinking at that point in time.

“Then he took a period of reflecting and we met a couple of weeks later and he told me of his decision to step away. He expressed some of his feelings, which is clearly a confidential conversation.

“The first thing I’ll say there is I’m full of admiration for this guy – as a man, a player and a leader. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s done.

“I made it really clear there’s no pressure on him, that it’s his decision to be made at the time that’s right for him.”

Borthwick is dismayed by the number and viciousness of online trolls at the World Cup, insisting the vitriol Farrell faced mirrors the growing mistreatment of some high profile figures in the game.

Farrell was caught in the eye of the storm following his red card for a dangerous tackle against Wales in August, a decision that was overturned and then reinstated in reaction to a public outcry.

Meanwhile, referees Wayne Barnes and Tom Foley have spoken of the influence online abuse had on their recent decisions to retire after the World Cup.

“In England alone we’ve seen a player – a captain – and two match officials step away at the top of their game because of certain issues,” Borthwick said.

“There are societal issues that are going on here. The online hate that is spread is not OK, it’s not right.

“For people to have to endure that, their families to have to endure that, to drive people out of the game, is just appalling.

“I don’t have the answers to it but I do know it’s wrong and they’re not true rugby fans that are saying this stuff.

“None of us expected what happened at that World Cup in that area, or for it to be at that level of vitriol against certain people and certain teams.”

A new England captain will be appointed later this month with Jamie George, George Ford and Ellis Genge leading candidates, but Borthwick ruled out an approach to Courtney Lawes.

Lawes announced his international retirement at the end of the World Cup but has been in superb form for Northampton so far this season.

“Courtney’s been playing really well but he was pretty clear to me about his step,” Borthwick said.

Kevin Sinfield will step down as Steve Borthwick’s England number two after the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.

Sinfield has overseen the defence since his appointment by Borthwick in December 2022, but in the wake of the recent World Cup in France the former Leeds rugby league great has decided to move on.

The 43-year-old will remain in place for the Six Nations and the three Tests arranged for June and July, but in a new role overseeing skills and kicking with the incoming Felix Jones taking charge of the defence.

Borthwick declined to disclose any details over Sinfield’s future plans in the first backroom reshuffle of his year-long reign.

“Kev made the decision over what he wanted to do,” Borthwick said. “At the end of the World Cup, there was space for every member of the management to reflect as we look ahead to the next World Cup cycle.

“After a big tournament like the World Cup, every member of the management team needed the opportunity to relax, decompress, reflect and spend some time with friends and family.

“A couple of weeks later, Kev and I met and he gave me his decision. Kev’s decided that longer-term he’s going to head in a different direction away from the England rugby team.

“Ahead of the autumn series, Kev will not work with the team then, he will move away from the team and in a different direction.”

England endured a challenging Six Nations with the lowest ebb being a record defeat at Twickenham in March, with France breaching Sinfield’s defence seven times in a 53-10 rout.

There were highs and lows during the World Cup warm-up matches and the tournament itself, and England’s defence was its best during the agonising 16-15 World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa, leaking only one try to the eventual champions.

“I’m just grateful that’s he added so much value over these 12 months and that he’s going to stay with the team for the Six Nations and the summer tour,” said Borthwick, who had also appointed Sinfield to his Leicester managed team.

“Kev’s role and what he’s added as we’ve reset the team, you can’t overstate the value he’s brought, what he’s done and the relationships he’s built.

“I’ve changed his role to skills and he will be working specifically on catch-pass skills with the kickers and goalkickers, which he does so very well.”

Former Ireland international Jones takes responsibility for the defence after being recruited from South Africa, having contributed to their triumphant back-to-back World Cup campaigns.

Andrew Strawbridge, New Zealand’s skills coach at France 2023, has been appointed as a consultant for the opening four weeks of the Six Nations.

“If you look at our coaching team now, you’ve got a lot of knowledge of the Premiership, people who coached in the Premiership less than 12 months ago,” Borthwick said.

“Richard Wigglesworth was playing in the Premiership just over a year ago. We’ve got a lot of knowledge of the Premiership and of European rugby.

“Felix has knowledge of the Irish system and the South African system. Andrew joining is brings us the knowledge he has of New Zealand and Super Rugby.

“That’s an exciting blend of coaches and knowledge that we’ve brought together.”

Kevin Sinfield is to step down as England defence coach after the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.

Sinfield has been Steve Borthwick’s number two since the start of his reign in December 2022 but his time at Twickenham will come to an end after 18 months.

Before he moves on, the Leeds rugby league great will take charge of individual skills and work with the kickers having previously overseen the defence.

“Kevin after the World Cup had a period of reflection, like every member of the management team did,” Borthwick said.

“Kev’s decided that longer-term he’s going to head in a different direction away from the England rugby team.

“He’s going to work with the team through the Six Nations and through the summer tour.

“Ahead of the autumn series Kev will not work with the team then, he will move away from the team and in a different direction.”

When asked to expand on Sinfield’s future plans, Borthwick replied: “Not right now and Kev hasn’t told us. That’s a question you can discuss with Kev in due course.

“I’m just grateful that’s he added so much value over these 12 months and that he’s going to stay with the team for the Six Nations and the summer tour.

“Through this first 12 months, Kev’s role and what he’s added as we’ve reset the team, you can’t overstate the value he’s brought, what he’s done and the relationships he’s built.

“I’ve changed his role to skills and he will be working specifically on catch-pass skills with the kickers and goalkickers, which he does so very well.”

Harlequins prop Joe Marler’s arm injury is being assessed by specialists amid front-row concerns for England ahead of the Guinness Six Nations.

Marler’s fellow loosehead props Ellis Genge, Bevan Rodd, Mako Vunipola and Val Rapava-Ruskin are all currently on the sidelines.

And Quins are awaiting a full medical verdict on Marler, who went off during the Gallagher Premiership victory over Gloucester at Twickenham on Saturday.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has potentially been presented with a major headache just a month before England’s Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

His problems include a four-match ban being imposed on Saracens’ Vunipola, who was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Premiership opponents Newcastle.

Although he will be available if required for the Six Nations, experienced campaigner Vunipola cannot play again until after Saracens’ Premiership appointment with Exeter, which is only a week before the Italy clash.

Vunipola missed out on the Rugby World Cup in France, with Borthwick choosing Genge, Marler and Rodd to fill three loosehead slots.

Genge, an England captaincy contender following Owen Farrell’s decision to miss the Six Nations, last featured for his club Bristol on December 2. He has been sidelined due to a hamstring injury.

Sale forward Rodd is out for the rest of this season after undergoing toe surgery and Gloucester’s Rapava-Ruskin, who was part of England’s World Cup training squad last year, is another long-term absentee following a knee operation.

Borthwick will announce his Six Nations squad in the near future, with prop resources seemingly being stretched.

On 88 times-capped Marler, Quins rugby director Billy Millard said: “We had three big injuries in the first-half to three very influential and key decision-makers on the pitch (Marler, Dino Lamb and Stephan Lewies).

“To be totally honest, they are still seeing specialists. I think some of them have turned out alright, but I am still not 100 per cent clear on the three. We are still waiting for total clarity.

“It’s his (Marler’s) arm, but again, they are getting MRIs and there are specialists looking at it and until I am 100 per cent clear I wouldn’t want to speculate.

“God love him, he battled on for a long time, but we have got specialists looking at him as we speak. I doubt very much he will be available for selection (against Newcastle on Friday).

“Fingers crossed, it is only a short-term one. Joe is Joe. He is big for us in so many ways. Hopefully, it is not a long one for him.”

On a positive note, Genge’s situation appears to be improving, with Bristol rugby director Pat Lam stating: “He is back running now, so he is on track.

“He is certainly going to make the Six Nations, whether he makes the start… the most important thing is that he gets back to playing.”

Saracens and England prop Mako Vunipola has received a four-match ban after being sent off against Gallagher Premiership opponents Newcastle.

Vunipola was dismissed during the closing stages of Saturday’s encounter following a dangerous tackle on Newcastle hooker Bryan Byrne.

He will miss Saracens’ Premiership appointments with Leicester and Exeter, plus Investec Champions Cup games against Bordeaux-Begles and Lyon.

Vunipola, though, will be available for England’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on February 3 if head coach Steve Borthwick decides to recall him.

And that could prove timely, given current injuries to England’s three World Cup squad loosehead props Ellis Genge, Joe Marler and Bevan Rodd.

Vunipola’s case was heard by an independent disciplinary panel.

“The player admitted that foul play took place, but not that it met the red card threshold,” the Rugby Football Union said.

“The panel upheld the charge and Vunipola received a four-match ban.

“He is ineligible to take part in World Rugby’s coaching intervention programme, having completed it in 2022.”

Had Vunipola not already done that programme, he could have applied on this occasion and then expected to have had one game subtracted from the suspension.

England will be without Manu Tuilagi for the start of the Six Nations after he suffered a groin injury in Sale’s Gallagher Premiership victory over Saracens last Friday.

Tuilagi limped off early in the second half with a grade three tear and has been told he faces six weeks of rehabilitation, although he does not require surgery.

The powerful 32-year-old centre, who was a regular in England’s midfield during the recent World Cup, will miss at least the Championship opener against Italy on February 3.

“Manu has pulled his groin and we think he’s going to be back during the Six Nations, but not for the first week,” Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said.

“I spoke to him and he’s like ‘I need to play and if I’m good to play it’s up to England regarding selection’.

“He was in the frame before and I’ve stated before his intent to keep playing international rugby.

“Six weeks is the recommended time for the injury and Manu is saying four.”

Tuilagi, who returned from the World Cup with a broken hand, was plagued by a long-term groin problem earlier in his career and more recently has been troubled by damage to both hamstrings.

Sale prop Bevan Rodd will miss the entire Six Nations after undergoing toe surgery.

Exeter maintained their superb home form as they defeated Leicester 29-10 in front of a record crowd at Sandy Park.

An attendance of exactly 15,000 witnessed the Chiefs end their 2023 home campaign in style with a bonus-point win as they stretched their unbeaten Sandy Park run in all competitions to 23 matches, spanning a period of 61 weeks.

It took the Tigers a long time to find their way into the game, despite many of their internationals returning to duty.

They trailed 24-0 early in the second half and, when they finally did fight back, they had left themselves too big a mountain to climb.

Chiefs centre Henry Slade had another an excellent game, once more staking his claim for an England recall for the upcoming Six Nations.

Exeter got off to a dream start with a close-range try after only seven minutes from South African flanker Jacques Vermeulen following a period of intense pressure on the Tigers line, with Slade converting.

Four minutes later they were awarded a penalty try when George Martin was adjudged to have tackled Rory O’Loughlin early to prevent him taking a try-scoring pass from Tom Wyatt and the lead was suddenly 14-0.

The advantage could have been increased even further if Lewis Pearson had not opted to go for glory himself, with two players outside him.

That passage of play saw Chiefs prop Scott Sio and Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs limp off, soon to be joined by Leicester winger Josh Bassett.

Even referee Tom Foley needed some first-half treatment after getting smacked in the ribs when he inadvertently got in the way of a Leicester attacker.

Chiefs had a try by Jack Yeandle ruled out for a double movement in the 35th minute, but they rammed home their first-half superiority a minute before the break when Slade latched on to a very loose pass from World Cup winner Handre Pollard, who had a first half to forget, and raced 40 metres to score under the posts, leaving the simplest of conversions for a 21-0 interval lead.

Slade put the Chiefs four scores clear 11 minutes into the second half with a penalty as the Tigers collapsed a scrum.

Leicester finally got their first points on the board in the 56th minute when England winger Anthony Watson finished off in the right-hand corner after they had camped on the home line following an initial break by Jasper Wiese. Pollard badly pulled the conversion attempt.

More sustained try-line pressure created a walk-in score for full-back Freddie Steward after former Chiefs centre Solomone Kata’s long pass as Tigers continued their fightback.

However, the conversion was again crucially missed, this time by Jamie Shillcock, leaving them still 14 points adrift.

Exeter were not satisfied with just the win, though, and replacement lock Rusi Tuima forced his way over with the clock in the red to claim the bonus point and provide the perfect finish for the home supporters.

Exeter maintained their superb home form as they defeated Leicester 29-10 in front of a record crowd at Sandy Park.

An attendance of exactly 15,000 witnessed the Chiefs end their 2023 home campaign in style with a bonus-point win as they stretched their unbeaten Sandy Park run in all competitions to 23 matches, spanning a period of 61 weeks.

It took the Tigers a long time to find their way into the game, despite many of their internationals returning to duty.

They trailed 24-0 early in the second half and, when they finally did fight back, they had left themselves too big a mountain to climb.

Chiefs centre Henry Slade had another an excellent game, once more staking his claim for an England recall for the upcoming Six Nations.

Exeter got off to a dream start with a close-range try after only seven minutes from South African flanker Jacques Vermeulen following a period of intense pressure on the Tigers line, with Slade converting.

Four minutes later they were awarded a penalty try when George Martin was adjudged to have tackled Rory O’Loughlin early to prevent him taking a try-scoring pass from Tom Wyatt and the lead was suddenly 14-0.

The advantage could have been increased even further if Lewis Pearson had not opted to go for glory himself, with two players outside him.

That passage of play saw Chiefs prop Scott Sio and Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs limp off, soon to be joined by Leicester winger Josh Bassett.

Even referee Tom Foley needed some first-half treatment after getting smacked in the ribs when he inadvertently got in the way of a Leicester attacker.

Chiefs had a try by Jack Yeandle ruled out for a double movement in the 35th minute, but they rammed home their first-half superiority a minute before the break when Slade latched on to a very loose pass from World Cup winner Handre Pollard, who had a first half to forget, and raced 40 metres to score under the posts, leaving the simplest of conversions for a 21-0 interval lead.

Slade put the Chiefs four scores clear 11 minutes into the second half with a penalty as the Tigers collapsed a scrum.

Leicester finally got their first points on the board in the 56th minute when England winger Anthony Watson finished off in the right-hand corner after they had camped on the home line following an initial break by Jasper Wiese. Pollard badly pulled the conversion attempt.

More sustained try-line pressure created a walk-in score for full-back Freddie Steward after former Chiefs centre Solomone Kata’s long pass as Tigers continued their fightback.

However, the conversion was again crucially missed, this time by Jamie Shillcock, leaving them still 14 points adrift.

Exeter were not satisfied with just the win, though, and replacement lock Rusi Tuima forced his way over with the clock in the red to claim the bonus point and provide the perfect finish for the home supporters.

England are to provide greater support for the welfare of their players in response to captain Owen Farrell taking a break from Test rugby to prioritise his mental health.

Farrell made the shock decision just weeks after leading England to a third-placed finish at the World Cup in France – during which he was regularly booed by fans – and he will miss at least the Six Nations.

The fly-half’s international team-mate Kyle Sinckler stated that Farrell taking a step back was “only the beginning” because of the workload and pressure faced by players at the highest level.

As well as being booed at games, Farrell has been the victim of online abuse and there is an acceptance at the Rugby Football Union that playing for England brings with it a growing level of scrutiny.

“We just want to support Owen and all the time we are looking to improve the wrap-around care for players. That is the most important thing,” RFU executive director of performance rugby Conor O’Shea said.

“It is getting more and more difficult and febrile to operate in some of these environments so we need to look really carefully at this to make sure we are the best at it.”

Head coach Steve Borthwick is to be given greater control over his most important players with the introduction of 25 ‘hybrid contracts’.

But while he will be able to set an England star’s conditioning program and influence medical decisions when they are with their clubs, he will not have the scope to dictate what position they play.

Marcus Smith was primarily used as a full-back during the World Cup but Borthwick would be unable to insist he wears the 15 jersey for Harlequins were he to be given one of the new contracts.

“We are very careful when it comes to selection and where a player will play at his club,” O’Shea said.

“The deal is that players are paid to win at the weekend and so clubs will make that final call where the player plays.”

O’Shea has been involved in shaping plans for a new-look second tier of English club rugby that will sit below the Gallagher Premiership.

The league – tentatively named ‘Premiership 2’ – would replace the existing Championship with teams currently in that competition invited to indicate whether they wanted to be involved.

If there was insufficient interest then all funding to the Championship in its current form would be pulled by the RFU, who believes the competition needs a significant overhaul.

“What are you investing in? You’d rather take that money and invest it in other things,” RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said.

“I know it’s a controversial topic, but where are you going to get that return on investment?

“We’ve shown that if you pour money into the existing structure of the Championship, it just doesn’t deliver. That’s not being disrespectful, it just doesn’t.”

Will Stuart hopes involvement in Bath’s resurgence this season can help in his quest to become England’s first-choice tighthead prop.

The 27-year-old was delighted to go to a first World Cup earlier this year but frustrated at starting just one match at the showpiece in France – the Bronze Medal victory over Argentina – and being left out of the 23-man pool entirely for the knockout clashes against Fiji and South Africa.

As he enters what he hopes will be his peak years, Stuart is determined to stake a strong claim to take over from 36-year-old Dan Cole and become England’s established number three in time for the next World Cup in Australia in 2027.

The former Wasps forward – who has won 33 caps since his debut against France in the 2020 Six Nations – threw himself straight back into club rugby after the World Cup and has helped Bath make a strong start in both the Gallagher Premiership and the Investec Champions Cup.

“Every player wants to play in a World Cup and the next one in Australia is a massive goal for me,” Stuart told the PA news agency.

“If my career ended now, I’d say ‘I achieved a little bit, I won a few caps for England and played at a World Cup’ but realistically I haven’t won silverware, I haven’t played in multiple World Cups and I haven’t really solidified myself as a starting tighthead for England, so there’s a lot I aspire to do.

“I played in three of the group games (as a substitute) and then missed out on the quarters and semis, which was a frustration.

“But it’s been pretty clear from chatting with the coaches what my work-ons are and what I need to do to be a first-choice tighthead for England.

“If I’m playing well for Bath and can contribute to a winning team, that falls into giving myself a good opportunity to push on with England as well.”

In addition to his own form, Stuart’s bid to establish himself for England will be influenced by how long veteran Leicester tighthead Cole can soldier on.

“The way Coley plays, I reckon he could play until he’s 54,” joked the Bath forward. “He’s great, he was great for me during the World Cup and it’s impressive that he’s still playing at that level at 36.

“He’s on 107 caps for England and played 300-plus games for Leicester and he’s been starting and playing 70-odd minutes for the majority of that so he’s a good person to look up to.”

With the Six Nations looming in the new year, Stuart feels England have huge potential for further growth under Steve Borthwick after defying pre-tournament scepticism to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

“I think we were written off a lot during the World Cup,” said Stuart.

“Draw-wise we probably had an easier route to the quarters but we ended up taking South Africa to one point in the semi-final and until the last 20 minutes we were all over them, so I think that is something to massively build on.

“Including the Six Nations and the lead-up to the World Cup, the coaching group probably only had about a six-month period to really work with the team and, with that in mind, we had a way of playing where we knew we could basically get to knockout rugby.

“When we got to that stage, it was always going to be fine margins and we were one point away from the final.

“I think the coaches have been very clear on the areas where we can push on and make massive strides to get back to where England have been in the past.”

Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley was banned from all rugby activities for breaching World Rugby’s anti-corruption and betting regulations, on this day in 2019.

Howley was banned for 18 months, with nine months suspended, after it emerged he had placed bets on matches involving Wales and two of their players.

It was found that, over a four-year period from November 2015 to September 2019, Howley placed 363 bets involving 1,163 rugby matches with three bookmakers through accounts held under his own name.

Of the bets, 24 involved Wales or were related to “connected events”, such as Six Nations games involving rival teams. On two occasions he bet on unnamed Wales players scoring tries.

Howley was sent home from Japan shortly before the 2019 World Cup began after the WRU became aware of possible wrongdoing.

The alarm was first raised when WRU policy and integrity manager Jeremy Rogers was contacted by an employee of Betway, who claimed that Howley had placed bets on Wales games.

It emerged that Howley gambled on a Wales player to be the first try-scorer in the 25-7 Six Nations victory over Ireland in March, but he stated that it was part of a treble that fell in line with his normal recreational betting activity. He also backed another player to score a try.

When the unnamed players were interviewed they denied any knowledge that the bets had been placed on them, with Howley supporting their testimony.

The WRU found that Howley made an overall loss of £4,000 during the time period under scrutiny and described his activity as a “hobby”, while adding that “we use the word hobby with some caution because it seems that a trigger for Mr Howley’s betting activity was a family tragedy involving the death of his sister”.

Howley returned to coaching with Canada after serving his ban and, in December, was appointed as technical coach with Wales ahead of the 2024 Six Nations.

Finn Russell reckons Scotland will benefit from having burgeoning backs Ben White and Blair Kinghorn plying their trade at the top level in France.

Scrum-half White, 25, joined Challenge Cup winners Toulon after the World Cup following the demise of London Irish, while 26-year-old full-back Kinghorn moved from boyhood club Edinburgh to Top 14 giants Toulouse earlier this month.

Russell returned to the UK to join Bath this season after establishing himself as one of the top stand-offs in the world during five fruitful years in France with Racing 92.

The 31-year-old believes it can only be a good thing for Scotland to have two key players – both of whom scored tries in the Champions Cup last weekend – spending their prime years in a league he holds in the highest regard.

“I think it’s good moves for the two of them, they’ll have great fun playing over there,” Russell told the PA news agency. “They’ll learn a lot and they’ll be challenged in a way they probably won’t have experienced before with the language, the lifestyle and the style of rugby.

“But I think both of them will adapt really well and they’ll grow as players as well as men. They’ll get to learn about the French mentality, French rugby and the individuals.

“That’s knowledge that you don’t really get until you’re out there playing. It will be great for the national team and it will be brilliant for the two guys personally.”

While Scotland have no issue with their players moving overseas, Rugby Football Union rules do not allow those based abroad to be selected for England.

That means 21-year-old winger Henry Arundell – who featured for Steve Borthwick’s side at the World Cup – will no longer be able to be picked for his country after this week extending his contract with Racing until 2026.

Russell is thankful he did not have to consider such a scenario when he moved to the Paris club from Glasgow in 2018.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be an Englishman and rule yourself out for playing for the national team but that’s obviously a decision he’s happy to live with,” said the Scotland talisman.

“He must be loving it out there. I was in Paris for five years and I loved every minute of it so I can understand why he’s staying.

“He’ll grow as a person and be challenged in a way he probably wouldn’t be over here with the language and the lifestyle. He’ll love it out there and I can understand his decision to stay.”

Russell will be reunited with some familiar faces next month when Bath host Racing – with Arundell in tow – and then visit Kinghorn’s Toulouse the following weekend in the Champions Cup.

“It will be good fun,” he said. “It will be different playing against Racing having been there for five years but I just need to treat it as another game.

“I can’t get caught up in the mental side of playing against my old team. Toulouse is another great place to go and play, especially in a European game, so I’m looking forward to both of those games.”

Finn Russell’s latest World Cup disappointment has not dented his enthusiasm to play for Scotland as the talismanic stand-off declared he has no intention of making himself unavailable for the national team any time soon.

The 31-year-old was gutted at suffering a second successive pool-stage exit in France in October, but he told the PA news agency his desire to pull on the dark blue jersey remains as strong as ever.

“No, not at all,” he said when asked if his appetite for international rugby had been diminished by his World Cup experience.

“If anything it’s given me a bit more of an appetite to get back into it with the national team again and try to get a few more wins and try to win something.”

Fellow Scotland star Stuart Hogg retired from rugby in the summer aged 31 but Russell, who is just a few months younger than the former full-back, aims to still be operating at a level that allows him to go to his fourth World Cup in 2027.

The fly-half, who recently joined Bath following five years in France with Racing 92, will turn 35 a week before the showpiece in Australia begins.

“Hopefully,” he said. “Age-wise, I’ll be able to make that. It’s just about whether or not I’m playing well enough, so hopefully I am. I’ve got no inclination to finish up any time soon internationally.”

This year’s World Cup, in which Scotland were well beaten by South Africa and Ireland, cut deep for Russell.

Instead of taking a holiday immediately afterwards, he chose to throw himself straight into club rugby with new side Bath, making his debut as a substitute against Newcastle just a week after the demoralising defeat by the Irish.

But as one of Scotland’s vice-captains, he has been in contact with head coach Gregor Townsend to dissect the tournament with a view to improving for the upcoming Six Nations.

“I came straight into something new after the World Cup so that didn’t allow me to reflect on it as much as others might have,” he said. “I think that’s fine though. It’s always in the back of your mind.

“I had a call with Gregor just to chat and give my opinion on how we could have done better at the World Cup, how we could develop, and how we could use it as a learning curve for both of us and the whole team.

“We were both chatting about how we thought the World Cup went, where we can grow and develop from it, how we can get better as a team and us both as individuals – me as a player and him as a coach.

“It wasn’t like we were blaming each other or anything like that, it was just a good conversation to get us going in the right direction.

“The style of rugby we’re playing is very exciting and we’re scoring tries but obviously against Ireland in particular we had a disappointing result.

“We’ll have to address a few things from the World Cup that didn’t go as planned and we’ll have to grow as a group and get better but I’m looking forward to the Six Nations coming round and trying to achieve something.”

Russell himself is in a good place. Following five years in Paris, he and his young family have enjoyed “a very easy transition” to life in Bath over the past couple of months.

After starting seven of the in-form Gallagher Premiership side’s last eight matches, the stand-off feels fit and fresh.

“I’m feeling good,” he said, speaking ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup trip to Cardiff. “I came straight back after the World Cup and played the next week so I didn’t have a week to dwell on the World Cup.

“I just wanted to get on to the next thing and get a new focus straight away.

“After a few games, I had a week off and went to New York with my partner so it was nice to get away and relax.

“Even though the World Cup was frustrating, it’s been good to get back in here and get some good results.

“It’s been a new challenge with a new team and I’m feeling fresh.

“I’ve settled in very smoothly, easily, quickly, which has been brilliant and rugby-wise we’ve been playing well. So far, so good. I’m enjoying it.”

In addition to the usual club and country matters, the prospect of a third British and Irish Lions tour will soon be on Russell’s horizon.

The Scottish superstar went to New Zealand in 2017 and South Africa in 2021 and is a likely contender to be involved again in Australia the summer after next.

“It’s something I know is coming up and it will be at the back of my mind but my main focus for now is doing as well as I can with Bath and Scotland and then we’ll get to the Lions when it comes round,” he said.

“I think everyone in the UK and Ireland will have that as their goal after the World Cup but it’s quite a while away. I just need to do my job for Bath and Scotland.”

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