Scotland’s Rugby World Cup captain Stuart McInally has vowed to lead the party as the quiet man, while relying on others to turn up the volume.
The 29-year-old Edinburgh hooker follows in the illustrious footsteps of Colin Deans (1987), David Sole (1991), Gavin Hastings (1995), Gary Armstrong (1999), Bryan Redpath (2003), Jason White (2007), Al Kellock (2011) and Greig Laidlaw (2015) in leading the nation into a World Cup campaign.
That last name on the list is very much around, of course, and McInally makes no bones about the fact he will rely on what he describes as the best leadership group he has ever been involved with to provide the rockets, while he seeks to plot a smooth course with calm authority.
“I’m not the kind of captain who’s going to speak loads, I’ve said this to [head coach] Gregor [Townsend],” said the man they call ‘Rambo’.
“I’m not going to be the captain who’s the most vocal. What I will do is work exceptionally hard, I’ll train hard, and I’ll work to make sure that everyone works hard to get the best out of us on the pitch.
“So for me that looks like asking Greig to speak and do a lot of stuff, it’s about asking John [Barclay] to help. I’m certainly going to lean on the guys around me, why wouldn’t I? They’ve got way more experience than me and have such valuable strengths that can help us.
“This is certainly the most leaders I’ve been involved with, whether with Scotland or Edinburgh. That can only be a good thing. You need the team to function whether I’m playing or not. You have to have leaders throughout the park and I think that’s a massive strength for us.”
A former head boy at George Watson’s College, McInally’s volume is reserved for workrate and ferocity in the heat of battle. Since converting from back row to hooker he has endured plenty of lows as well as highs in his career so far.
The proud owner of a private pilot’s licence, the forward has navigated the turbulence of horribly timed injury and a dispiriting loss of form a couple of years back to re-emerge as what his club coach, former England hooker Richard Cockerill, has described as one of the best in his position in the world.
He was the Scot who lifted the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham for the first time since 1983 after that incredible 38-38 comeback draw with England, which he contributed to with a sensational charge-down and 65-metre-sprint try to spark some embers of life at 31-0 down.
“Gregor told me last week. He just sat me down and asked me to captain the Georgia game and also if I wanted to captain the World Cup squad,” revealed McInally.
“I just smiled straight away, I was desperate to do it. I was also aware of how much leadership there was around me so I wasn’t sure how it would go.
“So I said to myself that if I get asked then I’d be happy to do it. Having so many leaders does make me more relaxed knowing that I’ve got Greig and John there.
“That was a really good chance at the weekend there [in the 44-10 win over Georgia in Tbilisi] to work with both of them on the pitch and be the captain. They work so well and take such a workload off me.
“John speaks so well about defence and Greig speaks so well about everything because of his experience. Between them they have almost 150 caps so I’d be silly not to tap into that experience and it certainly makes me more relaxed in my role as captain.”
McInally is used to sharing leadership as he had a spell of co-captaincy at Edinburgh with Grant Gilchrist, with whom he also happens to share the exact same birthdate of 9 August 1990. That season didn’t go well as both suffered injury and poor form as the capital pro-team continued to underperform. Both have bounced back. Gilchrist too is in the squad for Japan and couldn’t be more happy for McInally.
“He’s one of my best mates and we came through together and I’m delighted for him, he really deserves it,” said the lock. “He’s a world-class rugby player. As good a captain as you’ll get, leads by example on and off the field. We’ll all get in behind him.”
McInally suffered the agony of missing the last World Cup in England after injuring his neck and being ruled out just after taking part in the send-off dinner. “It’s a really proud moment for me, especially after what happened at the 2015 World Cup,” he said. “That was good for me in a lot of ways, in that I got my first cap at hooker, had made the transition, and had proved to myself that I could do it. But I got selected and then having to pull out was a real mixture of emotions, so I look back on that 2015 World Cup with some pretty sore memories of having to watch the games from my sofa with a sore neck. This time it’s great – to know that I’ve made the 31 and been chosen as captain is a real confidence-booster for me.
“The journey has been tough. I remember when I found out I was missing the 2015 World Cup,I said to myself that I was going to use this to come back stronger. I was determined to come back with a stronger neck than I’d ever had before, because I think I took that for granted, how strong your neck needs to be to play in the front row in international rugby.
“So I did loads of stuff – still do loads of stuff – to keep on top of that. After missing 2015 I played all of the 2016 Six Nations because I think Fraser [Brown] was injured, so it was between myself and Fordie [Scotland’s most-capped player, the now-retired Ross Ford].
“Then I didn’t play at all the following year because I was struggling to even get in the Edinburgh team, so that was a really tough year for me, feeling like I was ready to kick on but I couldn’t get a game.
“Then when Richard came into Edinburgh and Ross had an injury, he just believed in me and gave me a good run of games.”