Stuart McInally freely admits that the last time he was named official Edinburgh skipper he went on to have one of the worst seasons of his career but, after being named club captain yesterday, is approaching his second stint with nothing but positivity.
McInally was named co-captain along with Grant Gilchrist by then coach Alan Solomons two years ago and both international forwards endured a subsequent nightmare in terms of fitness and form as Edinburgh slid to a deeply disappointing season.
The arrival of Richard Cockerill last summer has seen the 28-year-old hooker revitalised for club and country and there was no surprise when the former George Watson’s head boy was confirmed as the capital pro team’s leader for the 2018-19 campaign.
“I have done it for a number of teams, age grade sides, I am comfortable with the role,” said McInally at yesterday’s Guinness Pro14 launch in Glasgow. “I probably overthought it in the past. The more I captain I believe it is just about playing well and working hard.”
McInally captained Scotland on their summer tour of North America and Argentina and replaces veteran lock Fraser McKenzie, who himself took over the club captaincy from Magnus Bradbury after an off-field misdemeanour by the young back-rower early last season.
“Richard just said was it something I would be happy doing?” explained McInally. “I said yes and he said he didn’t want me to do anything different and do the same as last year which, was playing consistently and working hard off the field.”
Cockerill believes the man nicknamed “Rambo” was the obvious choice to lead the side as they look to build on last season’s hugely improved season and return to the elite of Heineken Champions Cup competition.
“I think he epitomises what Edinburgh should be about,” said the coach. “He’s a local boy, he’s a world-class player, he’s proved himself in the last 12 months that he can compete on the world stage and his work ethic on and off the field is second to none when he plays for us or Scotland there’s no difference.
“He doesn’t save himself for Scotland, he just does everything really, really well. A couple of years ago him and Gilchrist were co-captains and neither of them could either get in the team or were fit.
“For me he’s a local boy, schooled locally, born locally, he’s captaining his home team and he’s a good enough player to grace the world stage, so for me that’s really good. Outside of that with guys like [Henry] Pyrgos, McKenzie and [John] Barclay, Gilchrist in there as well, there’s a lot of good leadership so I think it’s perfect for us as a club and our supporters to identify with a Scotsman who was born down the road, educated down the road, who’s leading the capital team.”
For McInally the focus now is on building on the positives of last term and continuing to drive Edinburgh’s improvement, while acknowledging that this season will provide new challenges for a buoyant team.
“Yeah, I’m not sure people expected too much from us last year,” he said. “This year there are probably more expectation than last year because we won a few games. That was great. In terms of ourselves we have no hard and fast rules. We just want to make sure we do the best we can every week to put ourselves in the best position to win.
“As Cockers always says, we will get what we earn. We haven’t won anything yet. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have not won anything. We made a play-off. In terms of where the club has been we are in a good space but it is a good message to reinforce.”
Asked if he felt the Edinburgh squad was strong enough to mount a challenge of two fronts this season, the new skipper said: “Time will tell, won’t it? The players we have signed. Simon Hickey at 10 is good and we have Jaco van der Walt there too, who is a top player. The Champions Cup is a tournament we want to be involved in this year. We have some brilliant teams to test ourselves against.
“Success will be that, at the end of every game we have battled and been physical and tried everything we can to win every single game and our attitude was right. Then we will take that success.
“We can’t say we are going to win the league as we don’t know what other teams are doing. All we know what we can control and that is how hard we can work. We will get what our deserve. We want to win every week and finish as high up as the league as possible.”