Massimo Cuttitta was so much more than just a coach for Stuart McInally, he was the front row guru who inspired him to convert to hooker and become the player he is today.
Scotland international McInally first met the Italian prop after joining Edinburgh in 2010, having spent the infancy of his professional career primarily at No.8 or as a flanker.
Cuttitta, who won 70 caps for Italy in a 10-year Test career from 1990, soon took McInally under his wing as he passed on his boundless enthusiasm for the art of scrummaging.
McInally went on to make his front-row debut for his hometown team in 2015 and has since become a regular for club and country, winning 46 caps for Scotland in the process.
Cuttitta was also Scotland’s scrum coach from 2009-2015 before the hugely popular former Italian captain passed away from Covid in 2021 at the age of 54.
And having played such a fundamental role in his career, McInally welcomed the announcement of The Cuttitta Cup – a new trophy that commemorates the memory of his mentor.
“I remember working with Massimo when I first started playing for Edinburgh in 2010/11,” said McInally, who has made more than 160 appearances for Edinburgh.
“I was a back-rower then. I didn’t really understand the technicalities of what he was saying but I was blown away by his passion for such a unique area. It was all he cared about.
“I remember once him saying that he would rather get stabbed than go backwards in the scrum. That just shows how proud he was about the scrum when he was in it and when he was coaching. From then on, what he said was gospel.
“My first time scrummaging in the front row was when I was still a back-rower but they didn’t have a hooker. As a No.8 back then, you put a lot of weight on your right foot anyway.
“So he said ‘Stuart, you can come and do this’. It was just against a scrum machine and I remember doing it and thinking it was hellish and that I’d never play in the front row.
“My neck, my jaw were sore and he asked if I enjoyed it. I said not really and then sure enough, that was what sparked the discussion about me moving to hooker.
“When I moved to hooker, he was fundamental in the conversations around that. I wanted to know if he thought I could do it and he was certain that I could physically, scrummaging-wise.
“I was always concerned that I was a little bit tall but he didn’t have any concerns about that. He assured me that he would work closely with me which he did.
“I remember going out with a couple of academy props from Edinburgh and I’d meet him after training as he’d have come just to see me and take me through three v threes.
“We would go through hit after hit, where my shoulders needed to be, get used to neck positions, how to get out of problems if I was in a bit of trouble in the scrum. I have such fond memories working with him and it was so sad when we heard last year that he had died.”
Nicknamed “Mouse” in Italy, Cuttitta was rarely seen without a smile on his face unless he was anywhere near a scrum machine – the one time when he would mean business.
But as well as being a masterful scrum technician, McInally said Cuttitta also left a big impression on everyone he met due to his selfless, warm and compassionate character.
“He was full of life, just a good man. He always had lots of stories. He liked his food and would tell you stories about his food,” McInally continued.
“He even made some for us once and it was delicious, some big pasta dish. He was just a good man to have around. He was very polite and engaging with the new players.
“He was just so proud to work with Scotland, he was in demand a lot but he was very proud to be an Italian working for Scottish rugby. He was always very proud of his heritage and what he achieved playing all those times for Italy as well.
“He was just so invested in what we were trying to do. He was very kind, very warm and very welcoming to everyone and I don’t think you’d find many people who would have anything other than that to say about him.”
Scotland and Italy will play for The Cuttitta Cup for the first time when they meet in Rome on Saturday for their Round 4 match in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
And McInally believes the unique trophy – crafted by independent Edinburgh jewellers Hamilton & Inches – is a worthy tribute to the man who did so much for Italian and Scottish rugby.
“It’s such a fitting idea and it’s so nice to know that every time Scotland play Italy, he’ll be there in some way and his family and brother are very proud of it,” he said.
“It will be really emotional and hopefully we can win it and bring it back to Scotland and bring back a little bit of his legacy back to Scotland after the game.”