Edinburgh Rugby rising star Stuart McInally would welcome a repeat of the try-winning heroics that yielded Heineken Cup success at London Irish when he takes the field for tonight’s clash with Cardiff Blues.
The 21-year-old No 8 powered over for the vital score as Edinburgh snatched a 20-19 victory, which they followed up with a similarly tight outcome when beating Racing Metro 48-47 in their second fixture. For McInally, an age-group cap at under 17, under 18, under 19 and under 20 levels, as well as a Scotland sevens representative, the opening-day win against a star-studded Exiles outfit at the Madejski Stadium provided confirmation of his readiness for the European stage.
“It’s great for your confidence, especially when you are winning away from home as well,” he said. “It was a great confidence boost for me knowing I can compete in Europe. Then we backed that up with a win against Racing Metro at home, it’s great to have two wins in the Heineken Cup.”
There is little chance of the level-headed McInally getting carried away, and he is quick to admit that those wins mean nothing at this stage. However, he knows that Edinburgh have created the foundation on which to build a credible challenge for a place in the knockout phase of the competition.
“We know we only won them by a point and we could easily be standing here with two points instead of nine, so we’ve got to be realistic,” he added. “We’re not going to automatically qualify because we’ve won our first two games. There is still a lot of hard work to do. But we’ve put ourselves in great shape to make the quarter finals and that’s our big goal now.”
Cardiff find themselves in a similar unbeaten position going into tonight’s clash – the first leg of a double header, with the return taking place at Murrayfield next Friday.
“At the moment we are totally focused on the away game. Obviously it’s a different task playing the same team two weeks running. You’ll learn a lot about them. It’s a team we played four times last season, twice in the Heineken and twice in the Magners [Celtic League, now called RaboDirectPRO14]. We’ve already played them once and we’ve got a lot of footage on them, so we know them inside out, it’s just about applying it on the day,” stated McInally, who will make his fourth Heineken Cup start tonight.
And, as evidence of the fact that success breeds self belief, he added: “The boys are playing consistently and the confidence is there. There’s a really good mood about the camp at the moment – training is fun, everyone is keen to get going and everyone wants to be selected for these big games against teams like Cardiff and then after that the two against Glasgow as well. We have a really big run of four games that we want to come out on the right side of.”
A try count of 13-7 in Edinburgh’s last two matches underlines both their strengths and weaknesses. Defensive frailties have been the focus of attention in training this week, and McInally goes into tonight’s encounter confident that offensive strengths will not be countered by a propensity to concede scores.
“It’s about what we’ve been doing the last few weeks – it has been working – and trusting our defence. We need to get our defence right. We know we can score tries but it’s about making sure we don’t concede. That’s going to be our main focus.”
And he credits Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley with continuing the development of a desire to play open rugby, saying: “I think the times Edinburgh Rugby have played well, they have played with quick ball, with pace. Teams just can’t live with that.
“Michael Bradley has come in but he doesn’t want to change that – we’re a very good attacking side and he’s keen to promote that even further. It’s just about combining that with our defence and improving that week on week.
“If we can do that, if we can sort our defence out, we can go toe to toe with almost any team. We know our attack is as good as any out there. We never feel we have a problem scoring tries and the confidence is there in that respect. It’s just about getting the other parts of our game right.”
McInally expects a tough night at the Cardiff City Stadium, and is keen to measure himself against a strong home back row.
“I’m really looking forward to playing against the likes of [Sam] Warburton, [Maama] Molitika and [Xavier] Rush,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge for me personally, coming through as a young player to come up against that. But it’s one I absolutely relish and it’s a chance to test myself. That will give me a really good indication of where I am.”
As far as the outcome of the match is concerned, he expects nothing less than an affair that is as tense as those that have preceded it, saying: “The games we’ve won have not been by much, taking aside the last game against Aironi.”
He concluded: “We expect this one to go down to the wire as well. It’s just about trying to come out on the right side again of what I expect to be a very close result.”