Why new Scotland captain Stuart McInally is intent on keeping his cool
Scotland skipper Stuart McInally revealed there will be no roaring and shouting from him in the home changing room ahead of this afternoon’s Six Nations clash with on-fire Wales, just a quiet expectation that every man will do his duty to restore national pride following campaign-sapping defeats by Ireland and France.
The 28-year-old Edinburgh hooker takes over from Greig Laidlaw as the team’s leader today but is adamant that the scrum-half will still play a vital leadership role off the bench along with his vice-captains Finn Russell and Grant Gilchrist.
Another defeat today would mean the Scots heading to Twickenham, where they haven’t registered a win in 36 years, trying to ensure that opening victory over Italy isn’t the only success in a tournament they entered with such high hopes at the start of last month.
McInally, who has previously captained Scotland in Argentina on last summer’s tour and the last meeting with the Welsh in a Cardiff loss at the start of the November series, said that he will bring a “lead by example” approach to the role.
The man, who like his former Scotland football striker namesake Alan McInally has acquired the red-blooded nickname of “Rambo”, is actually a thoughtful character who prefers to let his actions on the pitch do the talking while making clear that he expects the rest of the team to perform their roles with accuracy and passion. Laidlaw may have made way for Ali Price on this occasion but, with John Barclay close to a comeback from his long Achilles injury, McInally is approaching this afternoon’s daunting challenge against Warren Gatland’s men as a one-off.
“I got asked to be captain on Monday and I’m captain for this game. That’s all I’m thinking about,” he said. “There are loads of great leaders in this team. Grieg is an exceptional leader and so is John. They are up there with some of the best leaders I’ve been involved with.
“Greig has been excellent. He’s embraced his role from the bench this week and he’s respected that’s what the coaches want. He’s helped me and we’ve had good chats.
“It’s a different role but from a personal point of view I couldn’t have asked any more of him.”
McInally said that the entire squad were hurt by the outcome of the past two games, particularly the passive surrender in Paris, and refused to use the lengthy injury list Scotland have suffered for this year’s Six Nations as an excuse.
“It is too simplistic to say that,” he said. “That is not the reason we have fallen short. We have not been accurate enough with ball in hand as we have been in previous games for Scotland.
“I look back at some of our performances over the past couple of years and games that we win we have been really accurate with ball in hand. We have defended okay but conceded some soft tries. Injuries are one thing, we are not the only team suffering from injuries.
“I can’t put my finger on it but we are working on it.”
With McInally leading the team overall and the pack, he is happy to delegate responsibility behind the scrum to playmaker Finn Russell, who is back after missing the France defeat due to concussion.
“I have a good relationship with Finn and I’ve asked him to lead the attack this week,” said McInally.
“He knows that role better than anyone, being in that 10 position. It’s good for me, being able to lean on someone like that. I can just say ‘right, that’s your area’ and I can then focus on what I need to focus on.
“He’s a great leader. He’s very precise and knows exactly what he wants from everyone around him. He’s clear in that and he works so hard, on and off the pitch. He’s a key player for us.”
Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor, meanwhile, hopes that a conversation with today’s match referee, Pascal Gauzere, has helped clarify a few matters on how the Frenchman is expected to officiate the clash with Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam-chasing juggernaut.
“I won’t go into it because it’ll give the opposition an idea of how we’re thinking, but we’ve seen one or two things which will hopefully give us an advantage,” said the defence coach.
“You can’t rely on those conversations you have with referees, all you can do is highlights areas of concern and then hopefully you get the benefit.”