Stuart McInally will finally reach double figures in Scotland caps against Samoa on Saturday although, given the bad luck which has afflicted him in the past, the 27-year-old will be taking nothing for granted until he crosses that white line at BT Murrayfield and the referee signals the start of the Test.
The Edinburgh forward was a young back-row prospect five years ago when he was left stranded as an unused replacement in the November Test against South Africa. After converting to hooker he worked his way back into the national set-up and was picked for a first cap in the World Cup warm-up against Ireland in Dublin, only to be struck by a stomach bug on the eve of the game.
He finally did get his Test debut in the subsequent friendly against Italy in Turin but more misfortune was to strike when, after being named in Vern Cotter’s World Cup squad, he suffered a neck injury which ruled him out of the tournament.
All these mishaps pale, however, in comparison with the frustrations of last season. Things started brightly when the soon to depart coach Alan Solomons named the former George Watson’s College head boy and Grant Gilchrist as his co-captains for the 2016-17 campaign.
Things went rapidly downhill from there however as Edinburgh struggled, Solomons left, and both the dual skippers suffered wretched struggles with form and fitness.
“I was named as co-captain at the start of the year, my home club, something I was desperate to do for a number of years and to be named as co-captain was awesome, and then ...
“I think I started six games and was on the bench for maybe like 20. It was really frustrating, especially because of the ambitions I had to play for Scotland as well. Because I wasn’t playing for Edinburgh I wasn’t going to play for Scotland. It was a tough year, but that made me go back to square one, not too much pressure, just focusing on myself, and I’m probably better for it.
“I’d say it was the toughest spell. Maybe the start of changing to hooker was tough too but that was quite exciting as well, I knew the growth in front of me could be quite big. My expectations of how the year would go and how it actually went were so different.”
McInally has made an impressive start to the current season and might well have been handed the No.2 jersey regardless of the series-wrecking injuries to Ross Ford and Fraser Brown which have added to a casualty list that includes the bulk of Scotland’s frontline loosehead props.
“I was obviously delighted to be named in the autumn squad first and foremost,” said McInally. “I also feel for Ross and Fraser, I’ve been in that position before around the World Cup when you get lengthy injuries at inconvenient times.”
McInally has clearly responded well to the influence of former England hooker Richard Cockerill, who has been putting his stamp on Edinburgh after taking the head coach job.
“He does give me hints and tips,” said the player. “There’s one for striking the ball at the scrum he gave me, a little technique he used to use back in the day and he did say `it might work, it might not’ but actually I use it and it works really well. I owe that to him.
“The good thing about Richard is that he knows the pressure you’re under as a hooker at set-piece. But he doesn’t put heaps of pressure on me. If I throw the odd bad lineout he doesn’t mind so long as I’m contributing around the pitch. I think what you guys perceive about Richard and what you see is different.
“He is a really smart technical coach.
“He can be hard on us as well, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of what I’ve got out of him, the way he approaches training is he puts me under enough pressure but not too much, if that makes sense.”