IN years to come, the moment where Stuart McInally cemented his credentials as the man in pole position to lead Scotland at the Rugby World Cup will be talked about in hushed tones.

It came at Twickenham. Scotland were 31-0 down after 34 minutes having conceded four converted tries and a penalty and were staring down the barrel of a thrashing. Then skipper McInally charged down an Owen Farrell kick, ran in the try from half way and momentum swung 180 degrees.

"That was certainly the biggest challenge I have had as a leader," he admits now. "Being under your sticks four times away from home doesn’t happen often in an international but it happened in that first half.

"It was fairly calm, we were saying the right things but the frustrating thing was that it was not leading to better actions. England seemed to be playing so well and there seemed to be no stopping them. It was just one-way traffic.

"We had a goal in that game to get forward on Farrell. I found myself in front of him and tried to get forward. I was too close for him to kick, I don’t know why he kicked it, but I got the charge down and was just trying to run as far as I could before I got tackled."


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It sparked that dramatic second-half comeback ending in the frustration of a 38-38 draw that meant he got to go up and be presented with the Calcutta Cup, certainly his finest hour as a leader.

As a result, he has been handed the first chance to lead the team in the pre-World Cup warm-up matches, a clear signal, you would think, that the job is his to lose.

That despite a crop of men around him who have captained Scotland before him. As he pointed out John Barclay was captain early in his career, Greig Laidlaw led the team in the last World Cup, Grant Gilchrist led the side under Vern Cotter and captained McInally at club level.

One thing is certain, barring injury McInally, routinely described as one of the best hookers in the world by Richard Cockerill, his club coach at Edinburgh, will go to the World Cup in some capacity, burying memories of four years ago when he was named in the squad only to drop out with a neck injury.

"I was gutted. James [Robson, the team doctor] phoned me and told me the scan results weren’t good and I’d be out for four months between the leaving dinner and departing," he recalled.

"That was tough, I remember being very upset. I was going through all the emotions, training so hard and then getting my first cap against Italy. I’d just started a game, then named in the squad, and after all that being told I was out for four months, it was pretty upsetting.

"I feel I am a totally different player now. Looking back, I’d only got two caps going into that World Cup. Now I’ve played a lot more. I feel way more comfortable in the No.2 role and I’m better placed to play in a World Cup than I would have been four years ago."