149 and counting for Stuart McInally
If selected against Sale Sharks this coming Saturday evening, club co-captain Stuart McInally will join an elite group of players to have made 150 appearances for the capital team - writes James Parsons.
Joining the likes of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Chris Paterson and more recently Grant Gilchrist, McInally’s name will forever be recognised with some of the Edinburgh Rugby greats.
Since making his debut in 2010, McInally has been at the heart of the club both on and off the pitch, and has been heavily involved in some of the team’s best moments over the past decade.
When he first pulled on the Edinburgh Jersey, the milestone of 150 games felt a million miles away, but it is now a reality for the former George Watson’s man McInally, when he will become the 9th Edinburgh Rugby player to manage the feat.
“I never expected it,” said McInally. “I remember watching Ross Ford getting his 150th a few years ago, and thinking that he was such a legend and it was a massive achievement.
“To do it myself is pretty special, especially playing for my hometown club.”
McInally’s hometown team has changed significantly during his time at the club, and other than a short loan stint with Bristol in 2014, he has been at the centre of the club’s development.
“I’ve seen everything in the last 10 years at the club. I started in the back row with Dave Denton coming straight out of Scotland U20. The strength of the back row is so good now, so I’m glad I’m in the front row now!
“In my first year there was chat about getting a new stadium, but now seeing the new stadium with the posts up it feels so real. We’re really looking forward to playing there when fans get back.
“I’ve enjoyed all of the seasons at Edinburgh for different reasons. Rob Moffat gave me my first break in 2010, and the years after that were almost a blur of trying to get up to speed with professional rugby.
“My first game against Munster was a big memory, we lost but it was a special moment to make my debut for a team I had grown up watching.”
Having been given his chance by Moffat, Stuart’s next coach was Michael Bradley. Under Bradley Edinburgh went on one of their most famous European adventures, making the Semi-Final of the Heineken Champions Cup in 2012.
The Quarter-Final against Toulouse stands out to McInally. The match was played in front of over 38,000 fans, with Edinburgh holding out for a 19–14 win thanks to an early try from Mike Blair and penalties from Greig Laidlaw.
“People are probably sick and tired of hearing about that run, but it really was special, we weren’t performing well in the league but we seemed to pull it together for the key games that year, playing some ambitious rugby.
“The Toulouse game in 2012 was a huge highlight, seeing so many people turning out to support us was incredible, and to win was even better.”
The following year signaled a positional change for McInally, from the back row to the front, and it was a change that would see his career kick on to new heights. The change showed McInally’s determination to prove himself all over again, to fans and coaches alike.
“Alan Solomons came in as Head Coach, which was when I moved position. It was a really big challenge for me at the time, because I felt I had to earn my place in the team all over again. I had credit in the bank as a back row, but had none of that at hooker.
“We had the Challenge Cup run under Alan in 2015. I moved to hooker to challenge and improve myself, and being involved in that run was brilliant.
“I scored a try in the Semi-Final against the Dragons. I was actually playing back row for that one, having not played there for a while.
“I thought I had to play well and show what I could do, so it was a good moment to get the first try in that match.”
McInally has become a fixture at hooker for Edinburgh and Scotland, and both he and the team have been able to push on to the top level under current Head Coach Richard Cockerill.
“Since Cockers has come in my career has really kicked on, and as a team we’re building something great here.
“The first year with Cockers was special. We went from a team that wasn’t winning many games, to being a team that hardly lost.
“We were a team that was battling around second and third from bottom in the league, to making a European Quarter-Final, and coming close to winning that Quarter-Final”
While there have been huge highs during McInally’s 149 appearances, the moments with his teammates after a win are the ones that stick out for the Scotland international.
“The thing I really enjoy is being in the changing room after a win with the team. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform, and it’s not the easiest lifestyle trying to be at your best every week.
“I still get really nervous at the start of a game, but that feeling after the game when you’ve won and can relax, have a beer, they’re the moments I really remember and the ones I’ll miss the most when I retire.”