For those of us who have been awaiting the return of the prodigal son with an escalating sense of excitement, Finn Russell provided a sharp reminder during the course of Saturday’s pulsating European Champions Cup Final that it is never a smooth ride with one of the game’s most unpredictable mavericks in the No.10 jersey.

The enigmatic playmaker – who returns to Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad this week for the first time since his very public spat with the head coach in January – swung from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again, on several occasions, throughout a tumultuous and compelling 80 minutes of rugby at a heartbreakingly empty Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol (this was the sort of spectacle that really deserved a capacity crowd).

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it also plays tricks with the mind. Having been drip-fed a steady stream of short clips of Russell at his very best during the last six or so months – his exquisite chip over the Saracens defence to Virimi Vakatawa in Racing 92’s Champions Cup semi-final victory springs to mind – it is too easy to forget how hapless the same player can be at times.

There is an argument that Russell’s brilliance is derived from his ability and willingness to play on the edge so you have to take the rough with the smooth. His flat, no-look, miss-two, gain-line passes are, by their very nature, high risk – so, really, we should not be too surprised or infuriated when it goes wrong.

There is some merit in that point of view. Certainly, his willingness to meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same, means he is likely to try stunts that those of a more cautious nature would not even dream of – but that does not excuse plain, old-fashioned carelessness. There is pushing your luck and there is switching off, and his dead-ball area fumble in the 12th minute was absolutely from the second category (even if it was a far from sympathetic pass from scrum-half Teddy Iribaren, who should have been looking for the box-kick given the tightness of the in-goal area).

But then there was that astonishing pass just five minutes later which took four defenders out the game and set Simon Zebo scuttling up the left touchline for the try which reignited Racing’s challenge.

The other big talking point from Russell’s afternoon was the intercepted pass which led to Henry Slade’s crucial second-half try. His plan had been to lure Jack Nowell in to going for the ball and therefore create space on the outside where Vakatawa, Zebo and Juan Imhoff were ready to capitalise, but the radar was slightly off on this occasion and Racing paid the price. On first viewing, it looked terrible, but the replay showed Vakatawa screaming for the long ball and Zebo racing to the outside – they were on the same wavelength. It was not careless, it was pushing the boundaries, which is what the Scotsman has been instructed to do as part of Racing’s all-star line-up.

There was, in fact, much more to Russell’s performance on Saturday than just the three flashpoints outlined above. His constant probing, through taking the ball to the line before releasing undefendable late passes, and through his varied kicking game, meant Exeter’s defence was stretched in a way they are not used to, and it unsettled them enough for their Director of Rugby Rob Baxter to concede afterwards that it had been an untypical performance by his charges. Racing needed to unsettle the best drilled side in Europe, and Russell was instrumental in doing that.

You could make the argument that Racing could have won the game had Russell been a bit more clinical at key moments, but also make just as strong a case that they would not have been anywhere near Exeter without his influence.

By near unanimous consent, the 28-year has grown as a player and matured as an individual since leaving Glasgow Warriors to move to Paris during the summer of 2018, but it is clear now that those exasperating kinks in his game – the missed kicks to touch, the intercepted passes, the unforced fumbles – are not going to be ironed out.

Gregor Townsend indicated last week that now things have been patched up with Russell, he is comfortable with having to incorporate the stand-off’s idiosyncrasies into his game-plan.

"The way his rugby brain works, he sees things really quickly,” said the Scotland coach. “He still has the mindset of wanting to take on defences. He has that fearlessness to go for gaps, but he has the skill to unlock the best defence in different ways.”

Whether Lions head coach Warren Gatland will put the same emphasis on the more positive aspects of Russell’s game remains to be seen. There is a suspicion in Scotland that the New Zealander will be looking for reasons during the next year to go for a steadier influence in the key decision-making position on the 2021 tour of South Africa. Saturday’s performance could well end up being exhibit A in the case against the flamboyant maestro.