Compared to last season at Twickenham, England had more possession and more territory on Saturday, denying the hosts all but the briefest of inroads into the danger zone, particularly in the first half.
Scotland spent just seven seconds in England’s 22 during the opening 40 minutes at Murrayfield but still plundered a converted try and a penalty to go in at the turn 10-6 to the good.
And when the visitors were able to turn their territorial dominance into points to edge 17-10 ahead in the second half, Russell stepped up to swing the game back in Scotland’s favour with a kicking repertoire that was beyond compare.
It was a masterclass from the stand-off who has not been on the losing side against England for five years.
“I thought Finn controlled the game well,” said Scotland flanker Hamish Watson after the 20-17 victory. “It was tough and when you are not getting much ball it would have been easy to keep trying things and shipping it on.
“We know how great an attacker Finn is, but his kicking game has been awesome over the last couple of years, and you saw that with those back-to-back kicks which really put the pressure on England.
“I thought his kicking throughout the game – with those grubbers he put through to pin them back especially in the second half – he had a really good performance.”
Russell’s pair of cross-field kicks on 65 minutes will live long in the memory and the second proved to be the game’s turning point.
The first, from right to left, was executed to perfection, landing in the hands of Duhan van der Merwe who was able to make precious metres. When Scotland recycled the ball Russell switched play to the other wing, aiming his cross-kick at Darcy Graham.
The ball never reached the winger because Luke Cowan-Dickie stretched out and palmed the ball straight into touch. It was a double whammy manoeuvre, earning the England hooker a yellow card and Scotland a penalty try.
It tied the scores at 17-17 going into the final minutes and Russell made sure the Scots exploited the numerical advantage by pinning England back into their own 22 with a lovely low skudding kick to the corner.
With Cowan-Dickie in the sin-bin, Joe Marler threw the ball in (badly) and Scotland were able to win back possession, leading to a scrum and the penalty from which Russell would kick Scotland 20-17 ahead, a lead they would not relinquish.
The stand-off was immaculate in front of goal, knocking over three from three including a long-range penalty on the stroke of half-time, and his all-round performance had Gregor Townsend purring.
“I thought he had an outstanding game,” said the Scotland coach. “He had a couple of really good kicks in the first half into the bottom right corner. His attacking kicks for Duhan and Darcy were obviously very accurate, and his goalkicking was excellent.
“But I felt he managed the game too, there was a lot of pressure on him in terms of line speed from the opposition, but he was picking the right player to pass to.
“The last 10-15 minutes were our best attacking sequences and Finn was at the heart of that. That’s saying something when you see the weather conditions, because that’s when they were the worst of the game. That was one of his best performances for Scotland, really pleasing.”
The only time Russell seemed to take a back seat was for Scotland’s opening try - and what a moment it was for debutant Ben White.
Four years ago, the scrum-half played for England Under-20s in a defeat against their Scottish counterparts at Myreside. Now he is lining up in dark blue and entered the fray in the 12th minute at Murrayfield as a temporary replacement for Ali Price.
Six minutes later, he had his first Test try, finishing off a cleverly executed move after a quick lineout caught England on the hop. As White played out the ball from the subsequent ruck it was captain Stuart Hogg, not Russell, who stepped up as first receiver. He shipped the ball to Darcy Graham who flummoxed Joe Marchant with his dancing feet before passing inside to White to score.
If Cowan-Dickie’s intervention struck a grievous blow to England, the decision two minutes earlier to remove Marcus Smith from the fray and replace him with George Ford was hard to fathom.
The young stand-off impressed hugely in his first Six Nations outing, scoring all England’s points from a fine try and four penalties. But Eddie Jones, who graciously acknowledged Scotland deserved to win, felt it was time for a change.
“It is a 23-man squad and we thought George could come on and do a job for us in the last 20 minutes,” said the England coach.
The Six Nations now moves into its second round and Scotland will travel to Wales in good heart.
Despite not being at their best or dominating in the way they did at Twickenham last year, they never lost a lineout and stole one of England’s, they made 124 tackles and missed only six, and, in Russell, Graham, Watson, Matt Fagerson and Grant Gilchrist they had outstanding performers.
Townsend’s side have got their hands on the Calcutta Cup in four of the last five seasons and it is to the coach’s credit that he never tries to downplay the importance of the England fixture.
“We didn’t get close to our best rugby,” he said of Saturday’s game, “but the standards we’ve set are much higher than a few years ago.
“Obviously it’s great for our team but we’re on a five game journey here. We know it’s just the first game. For our people, we know it means the world to them.”