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Russell is content to just drink it all in

Downtown Houston, Saturday afternoon.

Finn Russell was satisfied with his performance in his Test debut against the USA. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
Finn Russell was satisfied with his performance in his Test debut against the USA. Picture: SNS Group/SRU

Finn Russell is sitting in a coffee shop, taking it easy with his family: dad Keith, mum Sally, brother Archie and sister Jessie. This is the same Finn Russell who is about to make his debut for Scotland. Has a player ever gone into his first Test looking more relaxed than this?

Everyone handles pressure differently, but Russell appears to deal with it by failing to acknowledge its existence. This is not bravado or contrived insouciance; it's just the way he is. There are players who would be gnawing the furniture in their hotel rooms in Russell's position, but he would rather jut go out for a coffee.

And given his performance against the United States a few hours later, who could question his strategy? There was nothing particularly showy about what Russell did, nothing flash, no attempted miracle plays. He just settled into the groove of being Scotland's newest playmaker and got on with his job. "You wouldn't think it was his first cap because he played with such confidence and composure," said Vern Cotter, who looked a good deal edgier than his 21-year-old fly-half.

Now, when you have grown up dreaming of playing for your country, nobody is going to mind if you show a few nerves when the great day arrives. But at the end of a remarkable season in which he has taken everything else in his stride, this is just another waymark for Russell, another rung on the ladder. So why fret?

"I see every game as the same," said Russell with a smile. "I tried to make sure the circumstances of the game did not get to me. I'm quite relaxed before a game and when I'm in it I try not to get wrapped up in the moment. I felt I did that quite well at the weekend actually, considering it was my first cap."

It is perhaps worth acknowledging that the team Russell was playing against was rather limited. It is no disrespect to the US Eagles to say that he probably came under more pressure, and had less time to settle on the ball, when he was playing for Glasgow Warriors against Munster and Leinster in the final stages of the RaboDirect PRO12 last month.

In his evolution from decent prospect to international playmaker, those matches were critical. They taught him what intensity really meant, but they also showed the world - and, more significantly, Cotter - that he had the kind of grown-up game that was ready for the international arena.

"Those games were at as high a level as anything I'd ever played," said Russell. "A Test match is a pretty intense experience but, after playing against Munster and Leinster, I kind of had a feel for it."

It would be almost reassuring to learn that Russell has a fear of spiders or heights or injections, for nothing else seems to phase him. In rugby terms, he has spent the past eight months with the roof down and his foot pressed hard on the accelerator, but he has come through the entire experience without a hair out of place.

His rate of progress can be measured by the fact that, officially, he has only been a full-time player for a few days, having been retained on an elite development contract until the end of May. And while he was one of three players - the others being Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir - who were being birled through the revolving door of the Glasgow No.10 berth during the Warriors' recent nine-game winning streak, the fact he was the preferred man for the Munster and Leinster matches speaks volumes for his status at the club.

The early indications are that Russell will double his Scotland cap collection against Canada in Toronto on Saturday, and the long-term forecast is that it will just keep on growing after that.

"I think it went pretty well," he said of his debut. "It was a good run for the boys. There is still a lot from me personally to work on and we will hopefully be fixing that up this week. It was a decent performance, I'd say. You always have the capacity to get better."

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