Edinburgh legend Stuart McInally retiring from rugby to pursue new career

Edinburgh Rugby stalwart and and Scotland international Stuart McInally will hang up his boots later this year to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.

The hooker – who has 48 Scotland caps – will bring an end to an illustrious playing career when his contract expires in November to earn his wings in professional aviation. He already holds a private pilot’s license.

McInally is one of Edinburgh’s longest-serving players having joined the club’s academy in 2009. He made his professional debut in 2010 and is now in his 12th and final season. He is currently sixth on the club’s all-time appearance list on 276.

The former Scotland and Edinburgh captain will play for Edinburgh for the last time on Friday night as the capital side travel to face Ulster at Kingspan Stadium in the United Rugby Championship.

McInally said: “It was really tough knowing this was the moment to move on. I always thought it would be really easy to retire because I’ve always known what I want to do after rugby – become a pilot – but stepping away from the club I love is massive, and it’s been a huge decision.

“However, I feel ready, and this is such an exciting opportunity. I drive under a flight path every morning on my journey into BT Murrayfield and so often see planes landing at Edinburgh Airport. I start to think ‘what is the pilot seeing’, ‘how are they adapting’ – and that itself gets me excited for the next steps in my career.

“While I’m obviously sad to be moving on, this decision has really been 10 years in the making. I started flying back in 2013 and a lot of work has gone in to get to this point. I’m now massively excited to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.”

An age-grade back-row of some distinction, the former George Watson’s College head boy made the decision to switch from back-row – a position he had played the entirety of his career – to hooker in 2013. It was a period of transition that didn’t come without its difficulties.

McInally explained: “Moving to hooker was the best thing for me and it’s been amazing for my career, however at the time it was really tough. I was playing week in, week out for Edinburgh and I had been on the bench for Scotland a few times – I thought I was ready to take off.

“I then get the phone call from the Scotland coaching team asking what I thought about the idea of moving to hooker. I knew if I wanted to achieve the things I wanted to achieve in rugby, then I would have to make that decision.

“It was the realisation that I’d have to spend two years of my life retraining as a hooker. Going through that was extremely tough, but I managed to do it, and that in itself has given me real confidence for my future, because it’s going to take two years training as a pilot. It’s tough, but the rewards are there to be collected if you’re willing to put the work in.”

McInally made his front-row debut for Edinburgh in March 2015 and soon earned his first Scotland caps at his new position in a summer double-header with Italy. He went on to become Edinburgh and Scotland captain, leading the national team to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A one-club man, McInally now prepares to depart Edinburgh later this year, leaving the club “in a better place than it’s ever been before”.

He added: “I look back on my time with Edinburgh so fondly. I’ve seen a lot of people at the club come and go, but the club has gone from strength to strength, and I really do believe it’s in a better place that it’s ever been.

“I’ve had 12 years with the club and so many special memories. As I move on later this year, I have so many people to thank. I owe a huge amount to my wife Natalie. Without even realising, she has sacrificed so much of her time to allow me to chase my dreams. She does so much, looking after our son Ollie and it’s an amazing feeling seeing them both after games – nothing beats it.

“I also want to thank Rob Moffat who was the first Edinburgh coach I worked with back in 2010. He signed me straight out of the academy and gave me a route to play for my boyhood club. And lastly, I just want to thank the fans. The people who come and support us week in, week out. Supporting Edinburgh is never the smoothest of rides. They are the ones who are always there, cheering us on win lose or draw.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to give supporters a new home and I know how much Edinburgh fans love packing out DAM Health Stadium. They give us so much energy and I now can’t wait to come back as a supporter after I hang up my boots.”

Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair has hailed McInally’s impact at the club, and added: “Stuart is a club legend and he’ll go down as one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated players because of his commitment to the jersey and dedication to being the best player he can possibly be for his boyhood team.

“Stuart commands respect across the club because of the way he carries himself as both a professional rugby player and a man. There isn’t a training session he won’t give 110% to, or a meeting he won’t fully prepare for – he’s the definition of a complete professional and his teammates look up to him because of his leadership.

“Stuart will soon move on to a new career as a pilot and I’ve got no doubts he’ll be a success in that too.”