Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill believes Stuart McInally’s storming contribution to Saturday’s Calcutta Cup glory has pushed him into the world-class category.
The praise continues to shower down on Scotland’s players following the stunning 25-13 win over England, with the Glasgow pair of stand-off Finn Russell and centre Huw Jones the two biggest stars of the show.
However, Cockerill, who won 27 caps in the No 2 jersey for England in the late 1990s, believes McInally is another who deserves to be lauded.
“He has worked exceptionally hard,” said the former Leicester boss, who is overseeing Edinburgh’s best season for as long as the Calcutta Cup was last in Scottish hands.
“Stuart has always been a great footballer and he has found confidence. You put some belief in people and he has gone from strength to strength. He is one of the best hookers in the [Six Nations] competition. In world rugby, who is playing better than Stuart at hooker? I can’t think of many.”
Cockerill honoured the pre-match bet he had made with assistant coaches Duncan Hodge, Calum MacRae and Roddy Grant by wearing a See You Jimmy hat at Edinburgh training yesterday, which saw several of Scotland’s heroes from the weekend return to the club ahead of Friday’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Munster back at the stadium where Cockerill watched the Calcutta Cup thriller unfold from the North Stand.
The proud Englishman would not go so far as saying he took enjoyment from the result – although he did refer to Scotland as “we” at one point before breaking into a grin and swiftly correcting himself – but he did take pleasure from seeing his players play their part in such a grand occasion.
“I don’t think anybody saw that coming,” he said. “We got what we deserved us English. Scotland played really well. I watched the game back on Saturday night as I couldn’t quite believe that actually happened.
“I would like to think some of the Edinburgh boys helped influence the result. I was pleased for the Edinburgh boys. It showed we have created an environment for guys to play at that level. Guys like [prop Simon] Berghan, McInally and [lock Grant] Gilchrist have been back from long-time injuries.
“Blair [Kinghorn] getting his first cap. It is good to see [flanker] Hamish [Watson] on really good form and [skipper John] Barclay who will be an Edinburgh player [next season] was outstanding.”
Tighthead WP Nel, who made his comeback off the bench on Saturday, and full-back Kinghorn, who made his Scotland debut as a replacement on the wing, are two set to feature for in-form Edinburgh at the weekend for the cross-conference Pro14 clash with Munster.
Cockerill’s rating of Kinghorn has steadily increased throughout the season, from doubting if he was ready for the Test arena as recently as the autumn to rethinking that and now suggesting that his aim should be to push for Stuart Hogg’s starting spot. “Why can’t there be a situation where he competes for the 15 shirt?” said Cockerill.
“Don’t get me wrong, Hogg is a world-class player. However, if Blair is playing well enough, why shouldn’t he be competing for the 15 shirt? That keeps everybody nice and honest.
“You have two players playing well for their clubs at 15 and if you want to get them both in the team then Blair has the ability to play on the wing.
“If you know you are going to be picked every week that can lead to complacency and not that for a second I am suggesting Hogg is like that.
“But sometimes Hogg gets injured. There is an opportunity for a young player to come through. Why not Blair?”
Cockerill is focused on Edinburgh, who are now third in Conference B, making it five Pro14 wins in a row but admits Munster, who beat Glasgow last weekend and sit second in the other section, will be a tough test.
“Muster are a very good side,” he said. “They should come here and they should win, but we’ll see.
“We’ll be well prepped and very motivated for the game, as I’m sure they will be and it’s another good test for us. We’ve said that at Christmas against Glasgow it was a real acid test, we said it against Leinster and we’ve pushed right to the death and managed to get the result.
“Ulster away was a great performance and guts and spirit from us. Dragons, where we’re at we should probably win. We did and Munster should come here and probably have a deep enough squad to beat us, but we’ve been going well, we’re confident.
“We’ll be well prepped and we’ll go out there and try to improve again, put our best game on the field and see what comes.”
l Edinburgh yesterday announced a new one-year deal for hooker Cameron Fenton and have completed the signing of academy player Jason Baggot on a permanent deal.