MISSING out on the 2015 Rugby World Cup was a real pain in the neck for Stuart McInally.

Having been named in Vern Cotter’s squad for the showpiece in England, a bulging disc in his vertebrae sustained in a weights session just a matter of out meant that the closest he ever got to the global showpiece in England was the couch.

Thankfully, the story has a happy ending, with the Edinburgh hooker – now fully transitioned from his previous role in the back row – given the nod at Linlithgow Palace yesterday to captain Scotland’s touring party to Japan for the 2019 edition.

“It’s a really proud moment for me, especially after what happened at the 2015 World Cup,” says McInally. “That was good for me in a lot of ways, in that I got my first cap at hooker, had made the transition, and had proved to myself that I could do it.


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“But having got selected then obviously having to pull out, I look back on that 2015 World Cup with some pretty sore memories of having to watch the game from my sofa with a sore neck. So this time it’s great, to know I’ve made the 31 and been chosen as captain is a real confidence booster for me.”

Four years is a long time in rugby, mind you. “To be honest, it does seem like a long time ago,” he added. “People keep bringing it up but this time around I feel like a different player.

“Back then I was very much just coming towards what felt like the end of my transition from back row to hooker. I had two caps and was feeling good but I was still really inexperienced as hooker and I think that if I’d gone to that World Cup I wouldn’t have been as comfortable as I am now standing on the sideline throwing the ball in or scrummaging.

“Experience has helped me loads and this time around I feel more relaxed, and personally I’m in a good place to go there and play some good rugby.”

Part of his formula was to go back to the weights room and work even harder on strengthening that neck of his. “The journey has been tough,” he says. “I remember when I found out I was missing the 2015 World Cup – I said to myself that I was going to use this to come back stronger. I was determined to come back with a stronger neck than I’d ever had before because I think I took that for granted, how strong your neck needs to be to play in the front row in international rugby. So I did loads of stuff – and I still do loads of stuff – to keep on top of that.”

McInally goes by the nickname Rambo and he isn’t afraid to venture behind enemy lines. While other captains in Scotland’s past have been more vocal, if there is one snapshot of the kind of leadership he offers this Scotland team it was the charge down and 70 yard break which shifted halted England’s momentum at Twickenham last March and transformed a first-half shoeing into one of the more famous days in Scottish rugby.


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Thankfully, he has some other veteran figures around him to help him in the communications department. Vice captains Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay have 147 caps and three World Cups of experience behind them, and the likes of Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Tommy Seymour and Finn Russell aren’t too far behind. It all helped make the decision more of a no-brainer when coach Gregor Townsend sounded him out about the prospect as he named him captain for Saturday’s warm-up match against Georgia.

“Gregor told me last week,” said McInally. “He just sat me down and asked me to captain the Georgia game and also if I wanted to captain the World Cup squad. I smiled straight away, I was desperate to do it.

“Having so many leaders does make me more relaxed knowing that I’ve got Greig and John there,” he added. “That was a really good chance at the weekend there to work with both of them on the pitch and be the captain. They work so well and take such a workload off me. John speaks so well about defence and Greig speaks so well about everything because of his experience. Between them they have almost 150 caps so I’d be silly not to tap into that experience and it certainly makes me more relaxed.

“Do I have any reservations about it? Not really. I’ve had the experience of captaining my country four or five times now, so I know exactly how I’d do it. I’m not the kind of captain who’s going to speak loads, I’ve said this to Gregor. I’m not going to be the captain who’s the most vocal, what I will do is work exceptionally hard, I’ll train hard, and I’ll work to make sure that everyone works hard to get the best out of us on the pitch.

"So for me that looks like asking Greig to speak and do a lot of stuff, it’s about asking John to help. I’m certainly going to lean on the guys around me, why wouldn’t I? They’ve got way more experience that me and have such valuable strengths that can help us.”