Stuart McInally: Flying High
At only 28 years old, Stuart McInally’s list of achievements is already impressive. The Edinburgh-born and bred hooker has made his mark whilst donning the thistle – demonstrating his calm, composed and relentless demeanour at every game.
From a young age, it was clear that McInally was a natural born leader. The former Head Boy of George Watson’s College has represented and captained every Scotland age-grade side, played for Scotland A and has represented Scotland 7s on the HSBC Sevens World Series. He’s taken on plenty of responsibility, but seems to take it all in his stride.
“Being captain is always something I’ve just been asked to do. When I was younger, I always worked hard and I felt I played well at school rugby so that’s how it all started.”
He won his first cap for Scotland against Italy in Turin in the 2015 summer series and was named in Scotland’s squad for Rugby World Cup 2015, though injury prevented him from taking part. McInally’s fine form has continued and during the 2018 Six Nations championship, he was rewarded with a starting place in four out of five Tests. He was subsequently named Scotland captain of the 2018 summer tour and, while injury prevented him featuring in the first two Tests, a stirring, try-scoring performance in the final win over Argentina was a stark reminder of his quality. Despite his accomplishments on and off the pitch, it is evident that McInally has his feet firmly on the ground.
“It was real honour to be asked to be Scotland captain for the summer tour and for the Wales game. From where I was the year before, it was such a big turnaround and it was a really special moment captaining against Argentina in the summer and then leading the team out in Cardiff against Wales.It is a privilege to do it and I just try to be the best I can whenever I’m on the field.”
One of Edinburgh Rugby’s most consistent performers, McInally was named as Edinburgh captain for the 2018/19 season – having previously co-captained the side with Grant Gilchrist prior to the 2016/17 season. Edinburgh Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, spoke highly of his skipper at the start of the season, believing that he “epitomises what Edinburgh should be about.”
On whether he approaches his game differently as captain, the forward said: “I’ve tried in the past to do everything as I felt that you should be speaking about every part of the game – the attack, defence, set-piece – but it takes up too much headspace.
“What I find works really well for me is delegating roles to other people that I trust and the good thing about the Scotland squad is that there are guys who are really good leaders and good communicators in different areas.
“You know you can rely on people like Adam Hastings and Finn Russell to speak about attack, or Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray regarding line-outs so you just ask them to lead on those areas and I prefer just trying to lead by working really hard. It is tempting to try and do everything as captain but I try to not change the way I approach the game.”
McInally has made such an impression at hooker that it’s easy to forget he initially started his career in the back-row. He made the decision in the summer of 2013 to make the positional switch and he hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s worked out well for me. It took a while and I was keen to do it in the space of a year but it took a little bit longer. It’s obviously been very good for me and I felt that if I was in the back-row I would be fairly limited in what I could achieve. As a hooker, I just try to work really hard on all the core skills so it’s nice that the positional change is paying off.”
Getting the chance to represent his country in his hometown of Edinburgh is a privilege he does not take lightly. “It is hugely special,” he said. “I would go to these games with my friends when I was at school.
“We would go get some food in town then we would walk along Princes Street and Roseburn and you would see the team bus go past. It is crazy to think that I’m on that bus now, it’s awesome. I never take it for granted and I know how special it is. I love the anthems and seeing 67,000 people coming together to sing the anthem. It just shows the power of sport and what we are doing here in Scotland is so good to be getting sell-out matches at BT Murrayfield. I still even remember where I was sitting in the stands when I was younger. Having gone from sitting in the stand to standing on the pitch is incredible.”