McInally delighted by Edinburgh’s uncommonly fine form

Contrast with previous seasons encourages international hooker

Stuart McInally. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

AT this stage of the season in years past, there has usually been just one barely smouldering question on everyone’s lips when it comes to Edinburgh: will they finish eighth or ninth? It was ninth for the last two years, eighth for the two before that, but it mattered little. The relevant point was that the team’s league campaign had all but sputtered out for another season.

The vast improvement in their results and performances this season therefore comes as a relief as well as a cause for celebration, as Stuart McInally explained on Tuesday. “It’s nice to be at this time of year and have something to really play for,” the hooker said. “I’ve been at this club a while, and at this time of year you’re sometimes hanging on to the Challenge Cup and hoping to make something in that, because the league’s not gone so well.

“It’s nothing that I’ve experienced before, so it’s nice that we’re right up there this year. And I can’t credit the boys that have played while the Six Nations were on high enough, because they’re the ones that won five on the bounce and got us in the position where we are.”

That feeling of relief will perhaps help the players deal with some of the pressure on Friday night, when they play Ulster at BT Murrayfield knowing that any kind of win will take them into the PRO14 play-offs for the first time. So too will the fact that their current winning run of six games in the league includes a victory over the Irish province.

“The boys will take a lot of confidence from that,” McInally continued. “We spoke a bit about it this week, that we just went out and tried to put our best game out there. No-one probably expected us to win that, so we just didn’t talk about winning that week, we just spoke about going out and trying to play as best as we can and see what happens.

“We stuck with them, like we’ve done a lot of times this year. We stuck with them, stuck with them, and then we put ourselves in a position with that scrum at the end to win.

“We’ll take confidence from that. We know we can do it. We’re at home this time, and we’re excited to make amends from the game against Cardiff. We were far from our best, so we’ve asked for a reaction this week and I’m sure we’ll get it.

“It’s generally been a period in which we’ve struggled, the Six Nations. We’ve tended to lose those games, so it’s really nice, when we’re away with the Six Nations, to watch the boys go so well.

“You come back and the pressure’s on, especially if you’ve been brought back in to play or to start – you’re expected to win, because the boys have done it. If you do get the honour to come back in and play, you need to do justice to the boys that have been working so hard the last two months to put us in a position now where, if we keep winning, we’re going to be in a good place at the end of the season.”

Meanwhile, Mark Bennett hopes to be passed fit to play against Ulster after sitting out training earlier this week with a neck strain. “I’m still a bit sore from Saturday – I took a bit of a bump on the neck,” the centre said. “I’m just trying not to aggravate it more than anything else, but I should be OK.”

Three months after his return from long-term injury, Bennett is satisfied with aspects of his game, but feels he has yet to put in a complete performance. Friday night, he knows, would be the ideal time to change that. “I’m getting there,” he added. “I’m working on it.

“In general I’ve defended well since I’ve been back. I’ve not seen that much ball in attack. Even when I have, I’ve made some stupid mistakes, which is not like me.

“I don’t think I appreciated how hard it would be coming back from such a long-term injury into a new side. I’m just trying to find my place and get myself going again. I don’t think I’ve been as good as I can be. At the same time I wouldn’t say I’d been bad.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1390 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.