It may not have ended exactly as he had planned, but Stuart McInally says he is proud of everything he achieved throughout his rugby career.

As well as playing more than 100 times for Edinburgh, he won 49 caps for his country, incuding as captain at the 2019 World Cup.

McInally may have been denied his half-century by an injury at the World Cup, but remains content with his lot in the sport having embarked on a new career as a pilot.

He said: “The boys are back in the Six Nations camp and I know it’s not for mes anymore.

“The only thing I didn’t achieve was I’d have loved to gone with the Lions, but I was injured that year, so I didn’t really have a chance.

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“I’d have loved to have won the league with Edinburgh and they’ve got the team to do it, but I could’ve waited five or 10 years because there’s so many good teams in the league.”

Unlike so many professional rugby players, McInally has always been clear about his career plans after he’d hung up his boots.

He added: “With every contract I signed I knew it was rugby or flying, and before there were always goals I had within rugby, but I knew when I signed my last contract that I wouldn’t make the next World Cup, and it felt like the time was right.

“At 33 too, I want to have a long career as a pilot.”

McInally sat down with Scotland Rugby News to look back on his career.

After making his debut in 2010, McInally went on to establish himself in an Edinburgh back-row that included the likes of David Denton, Roddy Grant, Netani Talei and Ross Rennie.

The club reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup [as it was then known] in 2011/12 and in November 2012, McInally earned a spot on the bench for Scotland against South Africa.

He didn’t get on and was left out of the squad for the following week’s game against Tonga. Scotland lost and head coach Andy Robinson lost his job.

His replacement, Australian Scott Johnson, didn’t pick McInally for the following year’s Six Nations, before dropping a bombshell that changed McInally’s career.

McInally explains: “He approached me about moving to hooker. I didn’t want to do it at the start.

“I was enjoying playing in the back-row and I felt like my best years were ahead of me. But Johnno thought if I could throw and scrum. I would’ve been playing for Scotland at hooker at that time.

“They gave me loads of help and freedom to make mistakes. I spent so much time practicing throwing – it's a skill that most hookers who’ve played their whole lives there never master.

“There’s so many moving parts to a lineout and you’re always the one that gets the blame if it goes wrong.”

A loan spell at Bristol followed, but that was a frustrating time as McInally found himself left out of the big games with his throwing ability questioned. It was, though, a valuable experience.

“I learned early on that having all the skills around the pitch is great, but if you don’t work on those core skills you’ll never get picked.

“I went down to Bristol and I played here and there, but the play-offs came round and I couldn’t get a game because my throwing wasn’t up to scratch.

“It was good going down there, but Mark Sorenson [ex-Bristol lock] gave me a horrible time. At the time I wasn’t happy because he didn’t appreciate how new it is to me, but he was just holding me to a really high standard. In time I learned to appreciate that.

“I was living with Ross Rennie at the time. I’d drag him out into the garden and just chuck at him. I look back at those times fondly because that taught me what it takes to make it to the top.”


The other men who helped McInally were the coaches he played under, from Rob Moffat who handed the young back-row his professional debut, to Gregor Townsend who appointed McInally Scotland captain for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

McInally praised each of them for shaping his career, but reserved special adulation for Richard Cockerill, the ex-Edinburgh boss.

“Cockers is the one that really sticks out. He made me the player I ended up becoming. He taught me some tricks of the trade, but he really allowed me to focus on playing. I think that’s when I played my best rugby."

McInally announced last April he would retire after the World Cup, and after some good showings in the warm-up games, there was a sense of surprise when he didn’t make the final cut.

It was not the first time he’d endured World Cup heartache, having been picked in 2015 only to miss out through injury on the eve of the tournament, before enduring a torrid campaign as captain four years later.

“Me and World Cups just don’t go together,” he said.

"In 2015, I was at the leaving dinner in Glasgow and the bus was leaving the next day. I saw James Robson – he phoned me and just said ‘not good news’.

“Vern phoned me as well – he is a man of few words anyway – and he said ‘you’re gone’, and that was about it.

“2019 was just a rotten experience. That Ireland game was one of the worst experiences of my career. Something wasn’t right. In 2019 we had a good team on paper but things weren’t clicking.”

And last year, despite the disappointment of not making the initial cut, he vowed to stay fit and be available if required.

The call came first when Ewan Ashman picked up a concussion in training and McInally was flown out to train, but wasn’t officially added to the squad.

But with Ashman injured – and regulations stating you must have a competent front-row – McInally revealed he was in the stands for Scotland’s tournament opener against South Africa, but was ready in case of an emergency.

He said: “I was in the stadium for that South Africa game and I had to hand over my stuff to the kitman and my bag was in the changing room just in case there was an injury in the warm-up.

“I was hanging about with all the wives and girlfriends, turning down beers and chatting with Gerard Butler. It was a really weird experience. It was only at the anthems I knew I wasn’t playing.”

Scotland Rugby News:

Ashman recovered and McInally returned home. Just two days later, he was back in France, this time as a fully-fledged squad member after Dave Cherry fell down some stairs.

“It was bonkers.”

No sooner had he joined the squad – and would have likely won his 50th cap against Romania – than an injury ruled McInally out of the tournament. His World Cup – and his career – were over.

Now he’s looking forward to a new chapter, which includes sitting more than a dozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence exams. If all goes to plan, McInally hopes he’ll be flying passengers around the world within the next 18 months.

He’s not leaving rugby completely – McInally wants to help mentor the next generation.

“I want to stay involved in rugby,” he said. “I know the value of support because I've been through tough times myself, whether it’s getting injured or having a bad game.

“I’m really keen to pass that on to motivated guys who have big ambitions. I actively want to hear from these guys. I can sit separate from Scottish Rugby and it’s not going to get back to their coach.

"I hope I can pass on some of my experience.”