FEATURE | "There's a massive hunger and desire for success."

Club captain Stuart McInally believes Edinburgh are in ‘as good a place as they've ever been’ to bounce back and compete next season.

Speaking to edinburghrugby.org, the hooker reflected on and up and down 2018/19 campaign which saw the capital club retain the 1872 Cup and reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time since 2012, but fail to qualify for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series after finishing in fifth place in Conference B.

However, McInally insists that the club are well positioned, both on and off the field, and as ‘hungry as ever’ to bounce back next season.

“The tail end of the year was clearly disappointing, but we can’t let that define what on the whole has been a really good season,” said the 27-times capped hooker.

“It’s been great being back in the Heineken Champions Cup. It’s where we’ve enjoyed playing some of our best rugby this year.

“On the whole, there has been some really good moments. I look at our games in the Heineken Champions Cup, playing RC Toulon at home in front of a great crowd and getting the bonus-point win.

“Then getting the win over at the Stade Mayol is obviously something not a lot of teams do, so that will live long in my memory.

“I also look back at that Munster game. Although we came away at the wrong end of the result, it was brilliant to see so many people come out and support the city.

“There have been loads of highlights. That run we had after November where we faced Glasgow, Newcastle, Montpellier and RC Toulon, and won them all was absolutely brilliant. It just shows that when we get it right, we can compete with the best and that’s really exciting.

“There’s no doubt it was a disappointing end to the year, but on the whole, we’re in as good a place as we’ve ever been.

In a campaign that has seen McInally skipper Edinburgh and Scotland, the hooker has played an integral and influential role for both club and country.

The hooker has rightfully picked up the plaudits for his impressive performances, but humble as always, McInally paid tribute to his teammates for their hard work and commitment throughout the season.

“There’s a lot of boys who perhaps don’t get the high praise from supporters or media. I think of guys in the pack like Grant Gilchrist.

“He does a lot of good work for us across the park and runs the lineout exceptionally well. Then Ben Toolis alongside side has been brilliant and they’ve both played a lot of games for the club.

“Bill Mata and Darcy Graham have of course been brilliant and I’ve been so impressed with both of them.

“Bill’s desire to keep carrying is unbelievable and we’re very lucky to have him, while Darcy continues to punch above his weight. He’s such an exciting prospect for this team and he cares a lot about the club as well – he’s a great one to have on board.

“The attitude among the boys to come in here, roll up their sleeves and work hard is exceptional.”

Although the capital side didn’t necessarily hit the lofty heights he had hoped during the 2018/19 season, McInally expressed his pride at his first campaign as club captain.

The hooker led from the coalface and epitomised Edinburgh’s hard-working mantra. A trait that McInally insists is vital in the captaincy role: play well and others will follow.

“I don’t think I’ve really changed in my first year as captain. I said to myself that I wasn’t going to try and do too much different, just lead by example and hope that others follow.

“That’s how I feel I play my best rugby, so for me that’s the number one thing you can do as a leader. Make sure you’re playing the best that you possibly can.

“I’ve really enjoyed leading this team, but in truth it’s not a hard team to lead. I’ve never been among a group of boys at this club who work so hard and they just get on and do what is expected of them.

“It’s a really easy job to captain them and I also look round and there are a lot of leaders around me. Gilco is another guy who leads in the pack, while you’ve got both John Barclay and Magnus Bradbury in the back-row, who are both very vocal.

“Then in the backline, Henry [Pyrgos], Jaco [Van der Walt] and Chris [Dean] all lead from the front. Deano is a guy who’s really stepped up from a leadership point of view, so it makes my job much easier.”

McInally’s focus will undoubtedly now move to September’s World Cup in Japan, but for the meantime the hooker is still motivated to drive the capital club to success next season.

“We’d love to be training for a Quarter-Final right now, but unfortunately that just hasn’t been the case.

“There’s a massive hunger and desire to get back to the play-offs and Heieneken Champions Cup next year and I’ll make sure as captain we’ll be working hard to get there.”