Versatile could be Stuart McInally’s middle name and tonight in Newport the hooker-turned flanker will add the string of captaincy to his bow as he leads Edinburgh out in a crucial Guinness Pro12 clash with the Dragons.
Coach Alan Solomons has made the 24-year-old skipper in the absence of the injured Mike Coman as Edinburgh push for a top-six finish that will secure qualification for next season’s elite European Champions Cup.
Edinburgh are currently seventh, one point behind Scarlets and four ahead of Connacht. If they remain in seventh they face a play-off at Gloucester against the side that beat them in last Friday’s European Challenge Cup final in London.
McInally admitted he was surprised to get the nod over veteran hooker Ross Ford but is looking forward to the challenge. “It is my first time starting as captain under Alan. I thought the obvious choice would be to go with Ross [Ford] but I’m part of the leadership group at the club and comfortable doing it. Alan knows that and I’m glad he’s gone with me.
“I’ve captained Scotland Under-20s in the Six Nations and Junior World Cup and done it a bit at Edinburgh if Mike or Ross have gone off. Under Michael Bradley there were a couple of times when Greig [Laidlaw] went off too.
“I like to be clear about my instructions. Mike is a great example of a captain here and I’ve learned a lot from him. I won’t change much from his philosophy.”
McInally says the mood in the camp is good and the disappointment of losing last week’s final has been put to bed.
“It was a huge disappointment to play poorly and lose,” he said. “To get back within six points and have a chance to win it close to the end then give away the penalty after a lot of pressure was a blow.
“What hurts the most is we didn’t give a good account of ourselves, especially in the first half. It hurt for a few days but at the end of the season I think it’s something we’ll look back on with fond memories. We worked hard to get there and a final isn’t somewhere this club has been before. There isn’t much time to mope about, it’s back to business in the league and we’ve still got a top-six or top-seven position to fight for. The push is for top six but we know that’s going to be tough and we’ll be relying on Scarlets slipping up.”
McInally has no qualms about facing Gloucester again if that play-off clash does transpire. The winners at Kingsholm would then face a final home play-off against the seventh placed French Top 14 side on Sunday, May 31.
“I don’t think we’d be afraid of them,” McInally said of Gloucester. “We went toe to toe with them for long periods of that game. They were certainly the better team on the night, we concede that, and they came away with the victory but we’re definitely not afraid, even if it’s down there at their home ground. We’d relish it.”
Edinburgh thumped the Dragons at BT Murrayfield a few weeks ago in the European Challenge Cup semi-final but they are a different proposition at their Rodney Parade home and will be out for revenge.
“It’s easy to get up for a European final, it’s less easy to get up for Dragons away,” confessed McInally. “It’s two extremes, different ends of the spectrum – from a cup final to Rodney Parade.
“When we played them here [in the European Challenge Cup semi-final] we were all mentally there. If we can get back to that mental state, which will be hard, we’ll hopefully do the same sort of job on them. That’s the challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing how the boys approach it. We’ve never had a game down in Newport that we’ve found easy. A lot of teams struggle there.”
Solomons has made four changes – two injury enforced and two rotational – from last Friday’s XV. McInally moves up from the bench and Jack Cuthbert replaces the injured Greig Tonks at full-back. Hamish Watson starts at openside and Fraser McKenzie replaces Anton Bresler at lock.