McInally sets sights on PRO14 Final after ‘turbulent’ 12 months

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Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally has set his sights on leading the club to their first-ever Guinness PRO14 Grand Final to end a whirlwind year.

Twelve months ago, the hooker had been named to captain Scotland at the Rugby World Cup, but that campaign ended in the pool stages, and with McInally admitting afterwards he struggled with the mental strain of a difficult campaign.

Stuart Hogg replaced him as Scotland captain for the Six Nations, but McInally looked to have found his form just as the COVID-19 shutdown came into play.

He’s played in both of Edinburgh’s matches since the resumption, and he’ll be at the coalface once more on Saturday as Edinburgh face Ulster in the Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.

“I’m super excited,” the hooker said on a Zoom call on Wednesday.

“It means a lot to me. I’ve been captain now for the last few years so to lead out the team in such a big game is brilliant and to do it at home at BT Murrayfield makes it even more special.

“We’re looking forward to putting our best game out there and trying to reach our first ever final.

Empty stadium won’t change anything

The 30-year-old admitted it is “sad” that no fans will be at the game, but insisted it is “totally understandable” given the COVID-19 situation.

“On the day I think you’re very away that you’re running out to an empty stadium,” the 37-times capped Scotland hooker said. 

“Those games against Glasgow were good preparation for that.

“I wasn’t sure it would affect us too much as I always say when you’re playing, you’re in the zone.

“I never really felt a difference whether I’d be playing for Scotland or playing for Edinburgh in terms of how many fans were there because I was so focused on my own job.

“But it’s very noticeable when the stadium is that quiet and you can hear it all.

“On game day we’ll be very aware there are no fans there but certainly in the build-up it doesn’t change anything.”

‘We’ve worked so hard to get here’

Despite Head Coach Richard Cockerill stating his side are the “least fancied” of the four remaining sides, Stuart McInally insists his side are in it to win it this weekend.

“We’re playing on Saturday to win and then we’ll see if we can win the whole thing.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here, especially the boys who were in for a eight or nine week pre-season while we were all away at the World Cup.

“Those are the boys who have got us in this position to now be playing at the business end of the season.

“We topped our conference and we have to take confidence from that and back ourselves to win this weekend.”

And should he lead Edinburgh to a first-ever league final, the club centurion added: “It would be amazing.

“It’s obviously been a real turbulent year. It’s been pretty stop-start.

“I had that time off after the World Cup then came back and only played five or six games before the Six Nations started.

“I played four games for Scotland with the odd week off here and there, then COVID hit so I don’t really feel like I’ve played heaps of rugby.

“It helped me to get motivated to train during lockdown, as I was actually quite keen to do a little bit of extra work as I felt quite fresh having not played that much rugby.

“If I can lead the boys to a win this weekend and into a final, that would be huge. It would certainly finish the year on a positive note.”

 

 

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