Edinburgh back rower Stuart McInally insists the team is fully equipped and ready to challenge for silverware this season. And the 22-year-old believes the Capital side’s supporters are justified in harbouring title ambitions for the forthcoming RaboDirect Pro 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns.
McInally who is listed at No. 8 for tonight’s friendly away to Newcastle Falcons (kick-off 8pm), said: “We’ve got as good a squad as anyone just now. It’s just about us delivering. I firmly believe that if we play well we can beat anyone. It’s just about getting off to a good start and maintaining the run.
“The public have every right to have higher expectations of us. If I was a supporter I would expect Edinburgh to do well this year.”
With ten new arrivals at the club over the summer, competition for places will be intense and McInally enters the new campaign in buoyant mood having been called up during Scotland’s summer tour as cover for John Barclay. And, although he did not feature in Andy Robinson’s side, the age grade cap is in no doubt that his involvement was beneficial.
“Getting into that environment, and learning what it’s like to be in the Scotland camp for three and a half weeks was really good. I was disappointed not to get a game but it was good to take what I got from that then come back and go straight into pre-season.”
Indeed, the fact he missed out on international action helped McInally’s preparation for the new season. Those who played in the side that returned unbeaten from the three-test tour were forced to rest. By contrast, McInally launched himself into a workload that he believes has left him in ideal shape for the challenges ahead.
“I was back training at the end of June, so my pre-season was about six or seven weeks. It’s a long time of weights and fitness, not rugby focused stuff, but just about getting your body into shape. The last few weeks we’ve had a lot more rugby and we are all raring to go now.
“It’s probably my first full pre-season I’ve had with the club. The last two years, I’ve had problems with my right foot and I didn’t do any of the pre-seasons. Now I feel that I’ve hit the ground running.”
Edinburgh will go into the new campaign looking to build on last season’s Heineken Cup run – a painful 22-19 defeat against Ulster marked the Capital men’s exit at the semi -final stage. However, this time around the objective is to challenge in both league and cup. Having led his side to a bumper European pay day, the Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley has had his player budget boosted. And his enlarged squad will now come under increased scrutiny from SRU paymasters and supporters.
McInally is joined in the line-up for tonight’s encounter by five of the newcomers, with a further three on the bench. Among the backs, Greig Tonks starts at full back, Ben Atiga is selected at centre and Mike Penn is fielded on the wing. Meanwhile, Andy Titterrell and Dimitri Basilaia make their debuts in the pack, with Willem Nel, Richie Rees and Perry Parker among the substitutes.
Tonight’s match is followed by a home friendly against Northampton Saints next Friday and the season begins in earnest eight days later when Munster visit Murrayfield on RaboDirect Pro 12 duty.
“I’m really looking forward to getting started against Newcastle,” said McInally. “Hopefully these next two weeks go well and we are ready to hit the ground running against Munster.”
Edinburgh Rugby team to face Newcastle Falcons: G Tonks; L Jones, J Houston, B Atiga, M Penn; H Leonard, C Leck; A Jacobsen, A Titterrell, G Cross, G Gilchrist, S Cox (Capt), D Basilaia, R Grant, S McInally. Subs: R Hislop, W Nel, S Turnbull, N Talei, R Rees, G Hunter, S Visser, G Turner, A Allan, R McAlpine, P Parker, H Watson, A Black, J Farndale, A Walker.