6N: McInally relishes being Scotland’s 80-minute man

Hooker expects biggest challenge yet against Ireland

Stuart McInally Scotland
Stuart McInally has been one of Scotland stand-out performers this season Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

IT is highly unusual in this day and age for an international front-row forward to play the full 80-minutes in any Test match – so for Stuart McInally to do so in mammoth back-to-back encounters against France and England in recent weeks, having also played 67 minutes against Wales in the game before that, speaks volumes about the 27-year-old hooker’s remarkable stamina, resolve and durability.

The Scotland coaching team have been reluctant to throw veteran hooker Scott Lawson into the fray during this Six Nations, but the return of Fraser Brown to the Scotland squad this week, having finally shaken off the lingering effects of a head knock which has side-lined him since the turn of the year, means that McInally’s workload may well drop this coming weekend in Dublin.

Not that the man himself is looking for any extra down time. He knows he is in the form of his life. After years of waiting in the shadows, he is determined to enjoy every moment he can get on the park as ‘one of the best hookers in world rugby at the moment’ according to his club coach Richard Cockerill.

6N: Scotland player ratings (versus England)

6N: Scotland player ratings (versus France)

6N: Scotland player ratings (versus Wales)

“I am just happy to be playing. Compared to my fitness last year, I feel I am night and day ahead of where I was,” said McInally. “That is just because I have been playing more for Edinburgh and more for Scotland as well. I am much more up to speed for Test match pace. Before I was coming off the bench [for Scotland] after being on the bench for Edinburgh all year.”

“So, I do feel I can cope with the speed of it now. It is good to be on the pitch for 80 minutes. It is nice to be on at that final whistle, especially when you win. Last week was so special.”

“Hopefully I can show the coaches I can keep going for 80 minutes and it is not the classic 60 minutes. I pride myself on fitness. When I do fitness at the club I try and stick with the back-rows as best as I can. As long as I am contributing on the pitch then I will stay on.”

Badachro Gin

With 70 minutes gone in last week’s Calcutta Cup victory, McInally looked dead on his feet. But he managed to summon the energy to clamp himself over the tackled man and squeeze a penalty for his team right under the shadow of his own posts, which extinguished any realistic chance England had of snatching a last gasp win.

“It’s the kind of thing that you just have to take your breath when you get a chance and as soon as it gets into the 70 minutes you know you’re fine – just a big 10 minutes left,” the Edinburgh man reflected. “I get a hard time from some of the boys because I always look knackered, but I can just keep going. I’m just not good at hiding it when I’m tired, it’s probably my biggest work on!”

McInally flourishes under Cockerill

It wasn’t so long ago that Brown was widely recognised as comfortably Scotland’s leading hooker, having usurped long-time incumbent of the number two jersey Ross Ford, but nine months is a long time in international rugby and while both Brown and Ford have struggled with injury this season, McInally has been given a new lease of life under Cockerill at Edinburgh.

The former back-row, who converted from the back-row to hooker in 2013, has come through some pretty stern tests of his international credentials this season with flying colours, and knows that he will come up against another huge challenge against 109-times capped Rory Best when Scotland take on Ireland in Dublin this weekend.

“He’s a brilliant player. He’s someone who’s been at the top of his game so long and has achieved so much. He’s certainly up there as someone I can go up against to test myself and see where I’m at,” said McInally.

“We are under no illusion that this will be our hardest challenge yet because of the strength they have all across the park. They are so well coached by Joe Schmidt and have had real consistency for a number of years,” he continued.

“They pride themselves on their contact work and their physicality and that is something we have to be ready for. Their accuracy is brilliant. We had a look at their stuff this morning. They make a lot of metres because they look after the ball. Their carries, a lot of the time, is twice as many as the opposition.”

“They are very accurate. They play a lot off nine. It is a challenge for our defence. It is an exciting one.”

The scrum is key

“For me, the scrum is the big one. We have done well but Ireland is an exceptionally good scrum. There is a lot of experience there. I am excited to see where we are at against a team of that quality.

“They have a very physical pack who are not afraid to run at you and take you on. It is a case of us fronting up and getting our stuff right. They combine well the physical side with the sneaky plays, and wrap around plays as well. They are a great team but we are looking forward to taking them on.

“Doing it over there will be special knowing how important a win would be for us and what a win would do for us. We are putting all our efforts into this one game and will see where it takes us. We are in a great position in the table.”

“I am not too worried that it is an away form thing. We are well into this competition and have a clear strategy to go over there and win. There is no denying we are better at home rather than away in the Six Nations. The stats will tell you that. There is no doubt in our minds we can go over there and win. We just have to put our best foot forward.”

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About David Barnes 3552 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.