7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
The former Springbok star was part of the Clermont side beaten in the semi-finals of the Amlin by Stade Francais a fortnight ago after the reigning French Champions missed out on top-tier quarter-final qualification to Heineken Cup finalists Leinster.
As well as Leinster and Stade, Clermont have faced Racing Metro, Saracens and La Rochelle in continental competition this term and Russell is convinced that the gap between the two tournaments is narrowing nicely.
"I think the Amlin's a very high standard," said Russell.
"Three teams come down from the Heineken Cup and that's an extremely hard competition. When you come down from the Heineken, you might have only lost one game, so there's some very good sides in the Amlin this year.
"There definitely doesn't feel like there's a drop in standard. I think every team takes it as seriously as they take the Heineken Cup.
"Yes, the Heineken Cup is the ultimate competition, but I don't think the Amlin is that far behind."
It's no surprise then that Russell and his Clermont colleagues are frustrated not to be running out against Harlequins at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday, May 20.
The twice Challenge Cup winners were favourites to beat Stade in the last four having done just that in the Top 14 two weeks prior to their European encounter.
But there was to be no repeat at the Stade Charlety as the hosts ran out 29-25 winners to leave Clermont to concentrate on retaining their domestic crown while Sergio Parisee and co march on towards Cup Final glory.
"We target every game as a must-win. That's the ethos of the team: that we want to be involved in every competition that we can," added Russell, who started the semi-final at fly-half rather than his favoured position of wing.
"I think that showed against Stade. We didn't stop fighting until the very end and we played until the last minute.
"We didn't take our opportunities and made a lot of errors. We needed to hold on to the ball for a little bit longer. It showed when we held on to the ball that we could score tries. It's just disappointing that we let it slip.
"We beat Stade Francais two weeks before and I felt we could have beaten them in the semi-final as well. But it's always hard winning games away and full credit to them, they'll be playing in the final.
"It's disappointing for us all. The guys' heads were down in the changing room. The focus now has to be the Top 14."