Club legend McInally to retire and pursue pilot career

Club legend McInally to retire and pursue pilot career

Edinburgh Rugby centurion and Scotland internationalist Stuart McInally will hang up his boots when his contract finishes this November to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.

The hooker – who has so far won 47 Scotland caps – will bring an end to an illustrious playing career later this year to earn his wings in professional aviation, with McInally already holding a Private Pilot’s License.

McInally is one of Edinburgh Rugby longest-serving players – having joined the club’s academy in 2009 – and made his professional debut against Munster in 2010 to become Edinburgh Rugby player #1131.

Now in his 12th and final season, the hooker made his 176th appearance for the club in Saturday’s emphatic victory against Ospreys. He is currently sixth on the club’s all-time appearance list, behind only Allan Jacobsen (273), Chris Paterson (205), Ross Ford (199), Grant Gilchrist (188) and WP Nel (186).

The former Scotland and Edinburgh captain now gears up to the wear the castle on his chest one last time this Friday night as the capital side travel to face Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (21 April, kick-off 7.35pm).

McInally said: “It was really tough knowing this was the moment to move on. I always thought it would be really easy to retire because I’ve always known what I want to do after rugby – become a pilot – but stepping away from the club I love is massive, and it’s been a huge decision.

“However, I feel ready, and this is such an exciting opportunity. I drive under a flight path every morning on my journey into BT Murrayfield and so often see planes landing at Edinburgh Airport. I start to think ‘what is the pilot seeing’, ‘how are they adapting’ – and that itself gets me excited for the next steps in my career.

“While I’m obviously sad to be moving on, this decision has really been 10 years in the making. I started flying back in 2013 and a lot of work has gone in to get to this point. I’m now massively excited to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.”

An age-grade back-row of some distinction, the former George Watson’s College Head Boy was introduced to the Edinburgh first team in 2010, having captained Scotland at U17, U18, U19 and U20 levels, while representing Scotland 7s on the HSBC Sevens World Series.

McInally penned a two-year extension with the club in 2011. He immediately repaid the faith shown in him with a characteristically decisive try in the away Champions Cup victory at London Irish en route to the club reaching its first-ever European Semi-Final.

McInally then made the decision to switch from back-row – a position he had played the entirety of his career – to hooker in 2013.

Now looking back, it’s a decision and journey that McInally admits was ‘the best thing for me’, however it was a period of transition that didn’t come without its difficulties.

He continued: “Moving to hooker was the best thing for me and it’s been amazing for my career, however at the time it was really tough. I was playing week in, week out for Edinburgh and I had been on the bench for Scotland – I thought I was ready to take off.

“I then get the phone call from the Scotland coaching team asking what I thought about the idea of moving to hooker. I knew if I wanted to achieve the things I wanted to achieve in rugby, then I would have to make that decision.

“It was the realisation that I’d have to spend two years of my life retraining as a hooker. Going through that was extremely tough, but I managed to do it, and that in itself has given me real confidence for my future, because it’s going to take two years training as a pilot. It’s tough, but the rewards are there to be collected if you’re willing to put the work in.”

McInally made his front-row debut in Edinburgh’s win over Ospreys at Myreside in March 2015, and soon earned his first Scotland caps at his new position in a summer double-header with Italy.

The hooker was subsequently named in the final 31-man Scotland squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, before featuring in all five of Scotland’s 2016 Guinness Six Nations fixtures.

A natural born leader, McInally was named Edinburgh Rugby co-captain alongside Grant Gilchrist for the 2016/17 season – a partnership that would continue in both the 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaigns.

McInally was named as Edinburgh Rugby’s standalone captain in 2018 under then-Head Coach Richard Cockerill, a period in which the hooker truly flourished in the number 2 jersey for both club and country.

McInally started all but one of Scotland’s games in both the 2018 Autumn Tests and Six Nations. McInally was rewarded for his fine form as he was named as Edinburgh’s 2018 Player of the Year, while Gregor Townsend named the hooker as Scotland’s captain for the Summer Tour to Canada, USA and Argentina.

McInally continued as both Edinburgh and Scotland captain the following season, a year in which the hooker led Scotland to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, as well as Edinburgh to the Semi-Final stages of the then-Guinness PRO14.

McInally then made history the following season as he became only the 12th player to reach 150 appearances for the club.

The hooker celebrated his 150th appearance for the club by captaining his team to an away win over Sale Sharks in the Heineken Champions Cup in December 2020.

A proper ‘one club man’, McInally now prepares to depart Edinburgh Rugby later this year, leaving the club ‘in a better place than it’s ever been before.’

He added: “I look back on my time with Edinburgh so fondly. I’ve seen a lot of people at the club come and go, but the club has gone from strength to strength, and I really do believe it’s in a better place that it’s ever been.

“I’ve had 12 years with the club and so many special memories. Looking back at Toulouse in 2012. 37,000 Edinburgh fans at BT Murrayfield. I only came on for the last 10 minutes, but I remember Greig [Laidlaw] kicking the penalty, the final whistle and jumping up and h gging Fordy – which is amazing considering what he did for my career.

“More recently, making my 150th appearance for the club down at Sale really sticks out. I shared that moment with Chris Dean who made his 100th appearance for the club. A big European game, against a big English Premiership club, and turning them over on their own patch. Getting presented with a gift from the squad was a really special moment post-match.

“As I move on later this year, I have so many people to thank. I owe a huge amount to my wife Natalie. Without even realising, she has sacrificed so much of her time to allow me to chase my dreams. She does so much, looking after our son Ollie and it’s an amazing feeling seeing them both after games – nothing beats it.

“I also want to thank Rob Moffat who was the first Edinburgh Coach I worked with back in 2010. He signed me straight out of the academy and gave me a route to play for my boyhood club.

“And lastly, I just want to thank the fans. The people who come and support us week in, week out. Supporting Edinburgh Rugby is never the smoothest of rides. They are the ones who are always there, cheering us on win lose or draw.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to give supporters a new home and I know how much Edinburgh fans love packing out DAM Health Stadium. They give us so much energy and I now can’t wait to come back as a supporter after I hang up my boots.”

Edinburgh Rugby Head Coach Mike Blair has hailed McInally’s impact at the club, and added:

“Stuart is a club legend and he’ll go down as one of Edinburgh Rugby’s most celebrated players because of his commitment to the jersey and dedication to being the best player he can possibly be for his boyhood team.

“Stuart commands respect across the club because of the way he carries himself as both a professional rugby player and a man.

“There isn’t a training session he won’t give 110% to, or a meeting he won’t fully prepare for – he’s the definition of a complete professional and his teammates look up to him because of his leadership.

“Stuart will soon move on to a new career as a pilot and I’ve got no doubts he’ll be a success in that too. I’ve seen first-hand how dedicated he was when switching from back-row to hooker.

“He’s completely driven to achieve his dreams and that’s exactly what he’s done during his time with Edinburgh and Scotland in over a decade of service to the sport.”

Edinburgh Rugby Managing Director Douglas Struth has also paid tribute to McInally’s tenure with the club, and said:

“Many fans will struggle to remember a time when Stuart wasn’t playing for the team – he’s been part of the fabric of this club for many years now. His commitment, skill, care, calmness, and leadership will be sorely missed by us all.

“We have been blessed with many special players over our 150-year history – and we can now safely add Stuart to that list as he hangs up his boots later this year.”

“Everyone connected with Edinburgh Rugby wishes Stuart, Natalie, and Ollie all the very best for the next chapter and his journey from captain to pilot. Stuart and his family will always be welcome back at the club – their club – at any time. Thank you for everything Rambo.”

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