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Gilchrist backing for versatile McInally

Gilchrist backing for versatile McInally

Grant Gilchrist believes best friend and Edinburgh team-mate Stuart McInally is the perfect choice as Scotland captain heading into this month’s World Cup.

McInally was asked to lead the Dark Blues into the tournament in a surprise decision by head coach Gregor Townsend, opting against handing the armband to former skippers Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay.

The Edinburgh hooker made the transition to front row as a 23-year-old, calling an end to his career as a flanker in a move that functioned as a springboard to the international captaincy.

And Gilchrist says his friend is now reaping the rewards of his gamble.

“The fact Rambo (McInally) moved position at a relatively older age is remarkable,” he said.

“He was on the bench for Scotland as a back-rower and was more than good enough to play for Edinburgh 100 times as a back-rower.

“But to be brave enough to change position and take up a role that is so technical it speaks volumes for the kind of professional he is.

“His line-out throwing is among the best in the world, yet he’s a guy who had never thrown a line-out at the age of 23 or 24.

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“That’s remarkable but it’s down to the fact he is so disciplined and hard-working and he thoroughly deserves to be named skipper.

“He sets an example to the whole squad and is always one of our best players on the pitch – that’s what I look for in a captain.”

McInally’s path to becoming Townsend’s chief on-field lieutenant was far from a smooth one, suffering injury woes prior to the 2015 World Cup and only playing 66 minutes at the tournament.

But his resilience meant his leadership abilities continued to shine through, being named Edinburgh captain the following year as they endured a tricky season in the Guinness PRO14.

Edinburgh enjoyed a more successful campaign the following season, however, and Gilchrist is now delighted his best friend’s qualities will now become visible on the international stage.

“Rambo has probably been one of my best mates over the last ten years,” he added.

“I met him playing for Scotland Under-18s, he was our captain then, so I suppose you could say he’s always been leadership material.

“He came through all the age groups with me and we broke into the Edinburgh first team at a similar time.

“We even went through tough spells in our career around the same period. He was struggling to get a game and I was struggling for form coming back from my injury.

“He is such a professional and he works so hard that it was never a surprise to me that he would come through that spell. His game has just got better and better.”

Scotland’s campaign in Japan gets underway against Ireland in Yokohama, a side who recently rose to world number one following their 19-10 victory over Wales in Dublin.

But despite Joe Schmidt’s team’s formidable form over the past two years, Gilchrist insists the Scots are more than capable of causing an upset.

“We’re not going there to make up the numbers – we’re going there to win games,” he said.

“Obviously we know how hard a challenge it is to win it but that is what we’re aiming for.

“We know we’ll need to perform well to get out of the pool but if we do, it’s knockout rugby from then on and who knows what could happen?”