Stuart McInally believes the state that Edinburgh Rugby are in heading into this Saturday’s 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow Warriors is “like night and day” from 12 months ago.
The 2016/17 campaign started so well for the hooker when he was named co-captain alongside Grant Gilchrist, but that positivity had soon disappeared and last September then head coach Alan Solomons left the club.
And things were not much better by the time Edinburgh took on Glasgow on Boxing Day, the visitors coming out on top 25-12 to deepen the gloom in the capital.
However, fast forward to this week and there is a buzz of anticipation amongst the Edinburgh squad as they prepare to host their unbeaten rivals in the Guinness Pro14.
Eight wins out of nine in all competitions, 146 points in December already in three games and a clear game-plan under the leadership of bullish head coach Richard Cockerill have also left black and red supporters quietly confident ahead of the first all-Scottish clash of three this term.
“Compared to last December, it feels like a new club, it is like night and day,” said McInally, who signed a new deal last month.
“Everyone is working harder and the standards are higher and I just feel like we have got a good foundation now to grow this club from.
“It is part of the reason I decided to stay for another two years and I am very confident we are really starting to grow.
“We take confidence from the recent London Irish and Krasny Yar results, we have been short on confidence the last couple of years so those wins were good for us and our young players in particular who backed themselves and now feel ready to play regularly at this level.
“I think we have shown a harder edge over the last couple of years with some physical performances. We perhaps do need to be more devilish and the top teams in the Pro14 league are a bit more ‘bullyish’ at times and that is where we need to get to.
“However, where we are this year compared to where we were at this time last year is great – and we can certainly get better.”
As well as an upturn in fortunes for Edinburgh since last December, McInally’s game has come on leaps and bounds since then to the point that the 27-year-old was one of Scotland’s standout players in the autumn.
“I just feel more comfortable at hooker now, it is not new anymore – throwing in, the scrum – I am used to them,” the former back-row said.
“My scrummaging has improved as has my problem solving. When there was a problem in the scrum in the early years [he switched to hooker from back-row in 2013] I wasn’t sure what was going on, I would just know that we were going backwards and my face was getting dragged in the mud.
“Now Richard Cockerill has helped a lot with that in terms of working with my two props to change things, so the problem solving is better.
“I was always told that it would take time, but looking back I now know I needed all the experiences I have had at hooker, good and bad, to get me where I am.”
When big derby matches come along we always talk about ‘battles within the battle’ and certainly it will be fascinating to see McInally go up against Glasgow’s Fraser Brown, the man desperate to get his Scotland jersey back come the Six Nations.
“Fraser is a brilliant player, but look I try not to get caught up too much in individual battles, you are desperate to go out there and be better than your opposite man no matter who it is,” said McInally.
“At training this week it has been more about getting the detail right, in these big derby games the emotion just comes.
“I have respect for him, he only came back last week for Glasgow so he will be raring to go.
“He always led well from the front [when they played together for the Scotland under-20s] and spoke well and our careers have moved along at a similar pace.”