FINN Russell has never been one to shy away from a challenge. And the Scotland stand-off is well aware that Friday night’s match against France will be a challenge, all right.

The French are at home, and know that if they win well, and with a try bonus, the Six Nations title could be theirs. Having beaten Wales at the death last week, their confidence is sky high.

But Russell himself has always played confidently, too, and insisted yesterday that Scotland also had a lot to play for in the Stade de France. “These are the games as a rugby player that you enjoy the most, because there is so much on the line,” the Racing 92 playmaker said. “It's a massive game for both teams. If we manage to do what we’re planning and get to second it's the highest finish we’ve had in the Six Nations.

“France are trying to win the tournament, so it should hopefully be a great game with both teams chasing bonus points and trying to win by certain margins. So it could be a good one to watch for neutral fans.

“Playing over in Paris I imagine they will be favourites, but we go there with a great opportunity for us to finish second. It will be an extremely tough but enjoyable game to play in if both teams are playing at their best. It should be a great game.”

It should also be a great battle of wits between Russell and the French defence. They may think they know the 28-year-old well as he approaches the end of his third season in the Top 14, but Russell also has a sound knowledge of how those players like to defend.

“It goes both ways,” he explained. “They know what I like to do in attack and I know what they like to do in defence and attack, so I’m feeding into the boys here about what the guys I play with at Racing might try and do.

“They have a lot of threats in attack.

It’s not just the Racing boys, it’s one to 23 that are threats. In defence I know more about what the Racing boys will do, but the French are a great team.

“They’ll have a few defensive moves to try and counter what we do, but we have a few to counter them as well. It makes for an exciting game, because with some of their star players I have a slight insight in how they like to operate.

“For me, this is one of the best French teams they’ve had for a long time. It’s always an exciting game. They’ll play with a bit of flair and they have a lot of X factor.

“It adds to the matchday experience with me playing over there. I’ve never beaten them over there, but I have back at Murrayfield a few times.”

For all the customary enthusiasm with which he is looking forward to the game, however, Russell is very conscious of the political backdrop to it. The Covid-enforced rearrangement has taken it out of the international window, and Scotland’s agreement with English clubs has limited them to naming no more than five players from those clubs.

The omission of Sean Maitland was a selection decision, according to the Scotland camp, but one made within that five-man restriction, and Russell feels that the Saracens back-three player’s absence could be significant.

“He’ll be a very big loss. For us and for Sean it's a big disappointment not having him here this week. I saw him on Sunday when we found out which five players would be staying up and he was gutted.”

Having said that, Russell insisted that the squad would put the politics of the fixture behind them. “I'm not sure if it's fair or unfair - we just have to prepare as best we can with the players we have got.

“We can’t think about that. We’ve just got to get ourselves prepared as best we can going into the game at the weekend. As a group of players, as a squad, if we sit back and look at ifs and buts - it’s not fair, it is fair, that kind of stuff - it will be detrimental to our performance at the weekend.

And we need to be solely focused on the game.”