I have been in the BBVA Compass stadium in Houston, Texas twice to watch Scotland take on the USA Eagles with very different outcomes. The first time in 2014 they won 24-6 then in 2018 they lost 30-29.

What I didn’t know at the time was that two young men playing for Scotland on each occasion would go on to become two of the finest players of their generation.

With the best will in the world. I doubt if any of the young guns involved in the current tour that will play against the USA next Friday evening -this time in Washington DC - will go on to make such a big impact as Finn Russell and Blair Kinghorn. They have set the bar far too high.

Their quality will be badly missed but they quite rightly have been given the summer off by Gregor Townsend. Both will look back with pride at playing for their countries for the first time in 2014 and 2018 and could only have dreamed back then how successful they would go on to be.

Russell had Vern Cotter to thank for giving him his Scotland debut in what was the New Zealanders first game in charge of the national team back in 2014. The fly-half was one of four players - Blair Cowan, Gordon Reid and Alex Allan were the others- who Cotter brought in against the USA. Maybe it was because he was a local boy who we had seen and spoken to a lot as he came through the ranks at Glasgow Warriors but there wasn’t too much focus on Russell ahead of his debut.

Most of the headlines and television reports centred around flanker Blair Cowan who had an interesting back story. Although born in New Zealand the back row forward had traced back his Scottish ancestry through his mother who was born in the village of Blairmore near Dunoon in Argyll. He had made a trip up to Blairmore ahead of travelling out to play the USA.

On top of that he wore a Texas ten-gallon hat -as did his fellow debutante Gordon Reid- for the grateful photographers so it was their images that received the biggest profile ahead of the match.

Hard as it may be to believe considering the outgoing personality that Russell has but he was quiet ahead of his debut. In fact he didn’t say much on the whole tour. He had a solid rather than exciting first match for Scotland but has more than made up for that over the years with some of the most exciting play by a number ten that Scotland has ever seen. I was privileged to see him in Houston that day and to follow his career that has scaled the heights for club and country ever since.

What was significant for fly-half Russell that day and for most of his international career was that he had scrum-half Greig Laidlaw by his side. Not every player has the luxury of having a man of such experience as the Scotland captain to guide him through big matches early in their career. Okay, they became equal partners pretty soon but Laidlaw took the pressure of Russell back then as he was the goal-kicker. It was only after Laidlaw retired that Russell took over the regular kicking duties.

Blair KinghornBlair Kinghorn (Image: Getty)

When I saw Blair Kinghorn making his debut against the USA four years later -by which time Russell as one of the first names on the Scotland team sheet- there wasn’t much expectation on him. Yes, he was fast and talented but he had been mucked about at Edinburgh where the coaches struggled to work out his best position.

Was he a winger, a full-back or a fly-half? He made his debut on the wing against the USA and although he went on to play for Scotland at fly-half and also at full-back he was always best suited to have the fifteen jersey on his back for his country. He may have played at full-back for Toulouse when they won the European Cup and on the wing for them when they clinched the Top14 title but with wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham, when he is back fit, available having Kinghorn at fifteen gives Scotland one of the best attacking back three in world rugby.

I felt sorry for Kinghorn on his debut as there was a lot of responsibility on his shoulders as he was made goal kicker by Gregor Townsend. He had a very good game, scoring a try and putting over two conversions and a penalty. Unfortunately for him, he missed a very tough last-minute conversion attempt from the touchline after Dougie Fife went over that would have won the game. It was the first time that Scotland had lost to the USA and the first time the Eagles had registered a win over a tier-one nation after 94 years of trying.

Kinghorn didn’t have the natural talent of Russell -not many in the world do- and his was a slow burn to the top. Sometimes it is good for players to get out of the goldfish bowl of Scottish rugby and Kinghorn has thrived since he moved to Toulouse.

Scotland, even without Russell and Kinghorn, should have it relatively easy against the current USA side that failed to qualify for the 2023 World Cup. That was a massive setback for the country that is trying to create interest in rugby ahead of them hosting the 2031 men’s and 2033 women’s World Cup.

The USA is still struggling to get decent crowds for their domestic league set-up with former Scottish international players such as Rob Harley and Damien Hoyland playing for Old Glory in Washington DC. A Scotland team without their stars players such as Russell and Kinghorn won’t be much of a draw across the pond next weekend but it was always the right decision not to take them.

From a Scotland point of view, it is reassuring to know that the two game-changers Russell and Kinghorn, injury permitting, will be back for the tougher fixtures at Murrayfield in November. Scotland play South Africa and Australia at home as well as middle-ranked Fiji and minnows Portugal. You need a strong spine of your team and with Kinghorn at fifteen and Russell at ten the Scotland back division has strong foundations for the bigger challenges later in the year.