Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally has suffered yet more rugby heartache after he was ruled out of the forthcoming World Cup through injury.
McInally won his first and second caps in Scotland’s back-to-back victories over Italy last month before being named in the official 31-man group. However, an MRI scan at Spire Murrayfield Hospital revealed the extent of a subsequent, ongoing neck complaint that necessitates a prolonged period of recovery beyond the competition, which kicks off this Friday.
It’s the latest blow for 25-year-old McInally, who reinvented himself from flanker to hooker after being an unused back-row replacement against South Africa in autumn 2012. He was due to earn his first cap against Ireland last month but was struck by a stomach bug days before the game and had to be withdrawn.
He is replaced in the squad by Glasgow hooker Kevin Bryce, who had been drafted in as injury cover earlier in the summer.
Head Coach Vern Cotter explained: “Stuart had a weight session last week and we thought he’d strained his neck. He didn’t train, he then felt things further down his arm, the doc took him very quickly for an MRI – and he then found out that he had a bulging disc.
“I found out about it on Saturday, after it was confirmed. I’m really sorry for Stuart. It’s terrible for him. It’s one of those things that does happen in the game.
“He was at the send-off dinner and then unfortunately he can’t come with us. We feel for him. But it’s opened up an opportunity for Kevin.
“Everybody feels for Stuart. Like everybody, he’s put in a lot of work – and he thought he was hopping on a plane down to the World Cup. That’s changed. We just have to move forward, although it’s very, very unfortunate and we all feel desperately for him.”
Bryce earned his only Scotland cap to date in the back row during the 2014 summer tour.
“We’re lucky that Kevin has played in the loose forwards as well,” said Cotter. “He played against Canada on tour last year and came in there, so he’s able, as is our other hooker Fraser Brown, to cover those positions.
“Kevin is robust. He’s a very good ball carrier and he’s an aggressive character who likes bringing the physical edge to his game. He’s a big strong character and a competitor.”
Scotland depart tomorrow for Gloucester, where they face Japan in the Pool B opener seven days later, and Cotter responded yesterday to comments made by the Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones.
The former Wallabies chief had expressed surprise that the Scotland squad contained only one genuine openside flanker, John Hardie, and described the New Zealand-born player as untested at international rugby.
“Aw gee, I’m not smart enough to get involved in all that,” smiled Cotter when asked if he would be trying some mind games of his own.
“Eddie’s had a crack at just about everybody, hasn’t he? It’s just our turn.
“Look, he is probably right in theory – but he doesn’t know Fraser Brown and he doesn’t know Ryan Wilson.”
Scotland may have a little longer to wait than other nations to get up and running but, with the tournament’s opening match now just a few days away, the excitement is reaching fever pitch and Cotter is eager to get started.
“It’s been a great two-and-a-half months, seeing the players find out more about themselves and develop their characters and personalities, develop their rugby skills too,” said the 53-year-old Kiwi.
“I think there is a real focus on starting this World Cup well. We know it starts hard and fast with two games in four days. We’re happy, but the key thing now is staying calm, in control and focused.
“We’ve got a long week ahead waiting for the Japan game, with the World Cup starting before we do. We need to stick to our process. We’ve been practising a lot of different scenarios, we just need to perform.
“I think of Alex Ferguson’s great expression about playing the game, not the occasion. So everything will be focused on kick-off.
“As all coaches have said, we need to work our way to the kick-off and then get through that first 80 minutes.
“It will be tough and we’ll have to rock and roll with a few punches, but we’re ready.”