Mon, 16 Dec 2019

Paris - Racing 92's ex-New Zealand lock Dominic Bird says he is cautious of title holders Saracens' quality despite the English side sending a weakened outfit to Paris for their Champions Cup opener this weekend.

Sunday's visitors to the French capital have been given a 35-point deduction and fined more than 5 million ($6.42 million) for breaching the Premiership's salary cap rules, pending an appeal, and coach Mark McCall is set to prioritise securing top-flight status over European success.

"I have no doubt it will be a very good second team. They had a little bit of stuff up and that's their problem," Bird told AFP on Tuesday.

"All I care about is that we will come up against one of the best sides, if not the best side in Europe this weekend and I'm excited about that challenge."

"Off-field stuff, that's their problem and how they deal with it. It doesn't make any difference to me. I know they are still going to come and play," the two-time All Black added.

McCall's defending league and European champions have won three from their opening four games in the Premiership this season despite the absence of squad members such as England World Cup runners-up Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola.

Racing coach Laurent Travers said any issues to do with financial wrongdoings will have little impact on Sunday's proceedings against the three-time European champions.

"If they have problems off the field I know they don't have any on the field. Unfortunately we're going to face them on the field," he said.

"So from that point of view we're expecting something very difficult. We're far from being favourites," he added.

McCall said he was unsure how many of his World Cup absentees would feature against the 2018 runners-up, who have only three wins from their opening nine matches in the Top 14, as well as against Ospreys next week.

"They've been away from the club for five months, they're not robots. We were going to weigh up whether they were in the right place physically and emotionally to be able to contribute these first two games," McCall told BT Sport.

"We're going to expose some younger players to European rugby over the course of the season and that's going to accelerate their development," he added.

Elsewhere this weekend, French champions Toulouse travel to Gloucester and two ex-winners meet as Bath host Ulster.

European Champions Cup fixtures (15:00 SA time unless stated):

Friday

Gloucester v Toulouse (21:45)

Saturday

Bath v Ulster, Glasgow v Sale, La Rochelle v Exeter, Leinster v Treviso (both 17:15), Clermont v Harlequins, Ospreys v Munster (both 19:30)

Sunday

Connacht v Montpellier, Northampton v Lyon, Racing 92 v Saracens (17:15)

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