Home or away, Scotland's Stuart McInally able to tune out crowd

'You would earn a lot of money if you knew that answer,' was Scotland skills coach Mike Blair's response this week when asked why it is harder to win games away from home.

Scotland hooker Stuart McInally during a training session at Oriam. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

The question particularly applies to the Scotland rugby team and hooker Stuart McInally would settle for Six Nations points over pots of cash if he and the squad can find a solution to their well-documented woes on the road in the past two decades.

For his part, McInally has his own approach when it comes to big internationals away from the comforts of BT Murrayfield, to which he has become so accustomed for both club and country.

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“I always find it amazing now that I’m involved in playing for Scotland how you don’t even notice the crowd,” said the Edinburgh player. “I don’t find it too different playing for Scotland than playing for Edinburgh. You’re so focused on what you need to do, as soon as you start letting your eyes wander towards anything external you hamper yourself.

“I always remember watching Scotland and thinking ‘it’s a big lineout, he must be really nervous throwing it’. Then, when you’re there, you don’t even think twice about it, it’s just the way it is. So, the stadium itself won’t be any external factor I don’t imagine.”

McInally played in Scotland’s game at the Aviva Stadium two years ago and described it as a “different shaped” ground, with its swooping depopulated area behind one goal and vast banks along the touchlines containing most of its 51,700 capacity.

Last week, McInally’s club coach, the former England hooker Richard Cockerill, described him as the form No 2 in the competition and one of the best in the world at present. The 27-year-old has carried his excellent form for Edinburgh and Scotland in November into the Six Nations and built further on it with some dynamic displays in the past two games.

So much so that he has become that rare breed in the modern game – an 80-minute front rower.

Asked if he had another full shift in him for Saturday’s Dublin crunch, the ex-flanker said: “Who knows? I am just happy to be playing. Compared to my fitness last year I feel I am night and day ahead of where I was.

“That is just because I have been playing more for Edinburgh and more for Scotland as well. I am much more up to speed for Test-match pace. Before I was coming off the bench after being on the bench for Edinburgh all year.

“I do feel I can cope with the speed of it now. It is good to be on the pitch for 80 minutes. It is nice to be on at that final whistle, especially when you win and last week was so 
special. It was good.

“Hopefully I can show the coaches I can keep going for 80 minutes and it is not the classic 60 minutes. I pride myself on fitness.

“When I do fitness at the club I try to stick with the back-rows as best as I can. Not as well as I would like now. I try and be as fit as I can and get as much out of training as I can.

“As long as I am contributing on the pitch I will stay on.”

The return to the squad this week of Glasgow’s Fraser Brown following concussion issues, means a third full stint may not be on the cards.

McInally added: “The feedback from the coaches is that, if I am playing well, I will stay on. I really want to stick with that and put my best stuff out there. I have a good working relationship with Fraser and we trained against each other this morning and it is good to have him back.”

After coming up against the less familiar players of France and England in the past two rounds, this Saturday will be against rivals much better known through the Guinness Pro14, although that is, of course, a double-edged sword.

“You’re not going into that unknown,” said McInally. “Against France you knew who the players were because you sit and look at laptops all week, but you don’t have that thing against Wales, where you know them inside out because you play them every week.

“So it does help when you know the little things they like to do, or just things like the scrum. We played against [Tadhg] Furlong and [Cian] Healy [of Leinster] at the start of the year with Edinburgh. It gives you a bit more knowledge of what they like to do.

“But when you get in the Test arena it’s totally different in terms of intensity and I know they’ll be looking at this game as a massive target as well, because they want to go into that England week still top of the league, so we’re excited.”