McInally embraces leadership role ahead of Guinness PRO14 season

Stuart McInally enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season as did his club Edinburgh and the hooker has set his sights on building on that in 2018/19 ahead of the Guinness PRO14 season that begins on Friday.

Stuart McInally enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season as did his club Edinburgh and the hooker has set his sights on building on that in 2018/19 ahead of the Guinness PRO14 season that begins on Friday.

The new Edinburgh captain established himself as first choice for Scotland, starting every game of the Six Nations, while also helping Edinburgh to the Guinness PRO14 play-offs for the first time.

And with international skipper John Barclay joining the club in the summer, although he is currently recovering from an Achilles injury, McInally is relishing his leadership role at the club with Edinburgh travelling to the Ospreys on Friday.

He said: “I am lucky at Edinburgh where I am surrounded with guys who have been captains of teams.

“John Barclay, Grant Gilchrist is around. The younger guys are keen to lead now and Fraser (McKenzie) is there. Fraser can talk about lineouts so we can delegate and chat.

“I’m not sure people expected too much from us last year.

“This year there are probably more expectations than last year because we won a few games. That was great. In terms of ourselves we have no hard and fast rules. We just want to make sure we do the best we can every week to put ourselves in the best position to win.”

Tipuric steps up

McInally will face a new skipper at the Liberty Stadium as Justin Tipuric takes on the top role at the Ospreys, taking over from Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.

Tipuric has plenty of captaincy experience with the Welsh side, but this is his first time as club captain. And while there was some turnover this summer, with Allen Clarke coming in as director of rugby, the Wales flanker believes the team can bounce back from a difficult campaign las time out.

He said: “Last year was not a great season and this year we have to aim for the play-offs and Champions Cup rugby is where we belong.

“I know we have not got the biggest of squads but that gives a few of the younger boys the chance to step up and show what they are made of.

“And you never know what can happen. If we have our strongest XV out on the pitch then we can beat anyone, but unfortunately rugby is not like that.

“We have had a good camp in Portugal and that went really well and we had Shaun Edwards come along as well. We bonded well as a team and we are getting better each time we train.”

Captain Sexton

Elsewhere on the opening night, defending champions Leinster will travel to Cardiff Blues, with a new captain who enjoyed a dream 2017/18.

Johnny Sexton spearheaded Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, while also helping Leinster to European and domestic glory.

He will now get the chance to step into a captaincy role for the first time, but while Leinster achieved the double last year, he is adamant they will not rest on their laurels in the coming campaign.

He explained: “This group is slightly different, there are some similarities – we’re in a position where we’ve tasted success and what it feels like to win.

“But also, fresh in our memories, and for me it sticks out more than the winning, was the years before when we lost to Connacht in the (2016 Guinness PRO12) final, when we lost those two semi-finals (in 2017); so we’ve had a taste of that, we’ve had a taste of success.

“With this young group coming through, with some of the older lads, we’ve a good mixture of guys who are starting out and guys coming towards the end who want to be selfish and make the most of their last few years.”

Castello’s ambition

The final game on Friday will see Zebre take on the Southern Kings and they will once again be led by Italy centre Tommaso Castello.

The Italian side were something of an enigma heading into last season but enjoyed a good year with seven wins, their best since joining the competition.

And Castello, who established himself last term as first choice for Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri, believes that with more stability this summer, Zebre can kick on.

He added: “Last season was very good for us, no one expected us to win seven games in the PRO14 and one in the Challenge Cup.

“Last year our team was a question mark but I think that’s to Michael Bradley and the new staff, we improved a lot and maybe we could win more games than last year. Our goal for this year is to improve and if possible win more games.

“I had a little surgery on my knee so I only had a week on holiday and missed the pre-season but I joined the squad and have started training so I’m ready for the new season.”