In the form of his life and bursting with pride at being named Scotland’s World Cup captain, Stuart McInally boarded the plane to Japan in September brimming with anticipation for the adventure that lay ahead.
Life doesn’t always go to plan, unfortunately, and speaking frankly for the first time since a premature exit which saw him dropped to the bench for the decisive final pool loss to hosts Japan, the Edinburgh hooker described the intense disappointment of the experience.
“I think for one reason or another it didn’t work out. I went into that World Cup with the way I was going to lead in my head,” said the 29-year-old.
“We had a great leadership group around me. I had John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, Fraser [Brown, who took the No 2 jersey against Japan] as well. There were plenty of us who were looked on as leaders going into that tournament. I don’t think I put too much on myself. It was just the way it was.”
Scotland’s campaign got off to a crushing start with a poor showing against Ireland in Yokohama which ended in a 27-3 defeat. McInally didn’t speak to the media after that major setback but fronted up the following day as Scotland made the move to Kobe and cut an emotional figure.
After coming off the bench in the 28-21 loss to an inspired host nation it was decided that McInally should be given a month’s break, which he says has recharged the batteries, although there has been no conversation with Scotland coach Gregor Townsend as yet regarding the captaincy for next year’s Six Nations which starts with a trip to face the Irish in Dublin on 1 February.
Clearing the head in Australia
“I went straight to Australia from Japan. My wife’s mum and dad live out there. We had a week in Perth and then a weekend in Melbourne seeing old friends and then back to Perth for a week so that was good to clear the head and then back to Edinburgh to do a bit of training and then played against Munster.”
McInally was speaking at his old school, George Watson’s College, where he taking part in Edinburgh’s Principal & Prosper 1872 Cup Community Blitz. A total of 20 Edinburgh players returned to their former schools to take part in a series of coaching sessions, Q&A’s and signing sessions, including Blair Kinghorn at Edinburgh Academy and Matt Scott at Currie High School.
Returning to the Japan theme, McInally admitted it was a blow to lose his starting spot to friend Brown, who he will lock horns with again in Saturday’s 1872 Cup opener against Glasgow at Scotstoun.
On losing the captaincy to Fraser Brown
“Gregor told me he was going with Fraz for that game. I don’t expect to start every game just because I am captain and Fraz was playing really well. I got over it quickly, but it was hard to take.
“It was a massive honour. I’m proud to say I went to a World Cup as captain, but obviously we didn’t do well and play anywhere near our best which was frustrating.
“You do two months or more of prep effectively for one game. We were so desperate to do well in the [Ireland] game and then to play so poorly was the hardest part because you do all that training and then think ‘what is going on?’ – it hit me pretty hard and was a big learning curve.”
McInally is now back in the groove and looking forward to the season ahead and expressed gratitude for the support he had received since Japan.
Grateful for support
“It’s amazing, you go from after the World Cup never wanting to think about rugby ever again… then you get back to Edinburgh with your mates,” he said. “The week of the Munster game I was buzzing to get back out there.
“That showed me the importance of having that rest. Cockers [Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill] was great as well. I phoned him straight away and thanked him for the time off. I said I really appreciated it and he shared with me some of his experiences when he’d come back and played too soon and ended up wanting to pack it in, so he was very aware that I needed a bit of time to relax and I was really grateful for that.
“He was like ‘go away, don’t do anything, just enjoy some time with family and friends and give me a call when you get back and we’ll get you some training to do’.
“I turned the phone off, turned social media off and just enjoyed time with family. The World Cup was such a big media thing, of course it is, it’s massive and you can’t avoid it. Even if you don’t read the press, you’re on social media and someone will have retweeted something and so you see everything.
"So it was really nice to go out and not have to worry about having a glass of wine with your meal and just enjoy yourself.”
A qualified pilot, McInally hired a plane and took to the skies while in Western Australia.
McInally relishing derby dust-up with Brown
Now it’s back to the December chill of Scotland but the heat of derby battle ahead over the next couple of weeks.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” said the man they call ‘Rambo’.
“Fraz is such a great player, he’s a very good scrummager, a very good lineout thrower and excellent over ball so it’s going to be a great challenge.
“I have a really good relationship with Fraz – since the World Cup, we’ve met up for coffee. We’re good mates and I’m looking forward to catching up with him after the game.
“At the same time, It’ll be a good test for me to see where I’m at this moment in time. It’s always a good battle. It’s Christmas, you play Glasgow, you love it.”