Stuart McInally will, one way or another, be going in at the deep end if the Edinburgh back row gains his first Scotland rugby cap against world champions New Zealand in next week’s opening EMC Autumn Test.
For the one-time Watsonian prospect revealed during Scotland’s three-day training camp at St Andrews that matchdays now wouldn’t be the same without an early-morning swim.
“One thing in particular I picked up after being called in late to Scotland’s summer tour of Australia, Fiji and Samoa was the importance of routine,” said McInally.
“Of course it was enlightening to see close up how hard guys like Ally Strokosch work to maintain standards. Inspirational, actually.
“And I learned a lot about nutrition and weight training, so that I now believe I am the fittest I have ever been.
“But what I also learned about is approaching every game in exactly the same way whenever possible.
“What I have worked out is packing my kit the night before so that when I wake up the next morning, all I have to think about is the game itself.
“From there I head to the swimming pool by myself, so as to think through what I need to do for the team.
“There are tactics and codes to get straight in my head and I find the pool is an ideal place in which to get things sorted.
“In fact, I won’t allow myself to get out of the water until I am sure I am on top of everything.
“What I’ve also decided I have to do is approach every game with Edinburgh as though it were my first cap.
“In that respect the situation has been helped by the level of competition around through Dave Denton, Netani Talei and Dimitri Basilaia who has arrived and shown himself to be another quality player in my position.
“With these guys around to get a starting slot, I have really had to push hard.
“All right, results haven’t been going our way and on a personal level I have been going over why I went high in a tackle allowing George North to score for Scarlets last weekend, which is part of my learning process.
“But I’m certain that it is just little things that need to be put right and so long as we click, admittedly soon, then we will come out of the tunnel. So far as the Edinburgh season is concerned, too, I have started eight of the nine games so far and that has made a big difference to how I feel about entering the Scotland set-up.
“In the past people have kindly said that I could be close to a cap but I have always known that wouldn’t be possible without starting for Edinburgh.
“Now I am doing that and really do feel I am ready if I get the call from Andy Robinson.”
In fact, McInally came closer then was generally recognised on the summer tour.
“For most of the build-up to the Fiji Test my fellow back rows Richie Vernon and John Barclay were laid low by illness.
“It was touch and go whether they would make the game and in the preparatory sessions I was at No 8 although Andy Robinson never gave any indication that I could play.
“I felt that I was in with a chance but both Richie and John recovered, albeit the latter told me afterwards that he had been really close to pulling out.
“On tour everybody did the pre-match warm up routine, regardless of whether they were starting or on the bench, and I benefitted from that too.
“Nothing felt strange entering this camp, whereas it was more difficult when I was called into cover for Kelly Brown at one stage of last season.
“On that occasion I was being lined up to be 25th man (travelling reserve) for the French match, only for a knee knock to force me out.
“But that disappointment has more than been offset by what I learned on tour. What’s more, Kelly is back fit – and I am still involved. That in itself is a boost because Andy Robinson must have felt I was doing all right with Edinburgh to pick me.
“If I am released to play for Edinburgh on Friday of course I’ll slot back into the club.
“But it really has been refreshing this week just to get away from things at Edinburgh for a few days and focus exclusively on trying to put my hand up and show I’m ready for Scotland.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very ambitious to win things with Edinburgh and believe we can still turn our season around. But just seeing new faces and hearing different voices – that’s been good and in all honesty, I have tried not to think about Edinburgh’s season to give myself a break from wondering why things are different this season and always coming to the conclusion that it is nothing major and more a question of attending to the basics better.”