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Scotland armband is just reward for McInally: Gilchrist

Lining up: Stuart McInally is now one of the best hookers in the world after making the switch at the late age of 23
Lining up: Stuart McInally is now one of the best hookers in the world after making the switch at the late age of 23

By Andy Newport

Grant Gilchrist says best friend Stuart McInally has hit the jackpot with the Scotland captaincy six years after going all in as he gambled his career on a switch to hooker.

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The Edinburgh forward was the shock choice to lead the Dark Blues into the World Cup after Gregor Townsend decided against handing former skippers Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay the armband.

But the appointment came as no surprise to club-mate Gilchrist, who has watched the 29-year-old risk everything by making a belated move from flanker to the front-row aged 23.

Gilchrist has no doubt McInally could have enjoyed a more than decent career operating at the back of the pack.

But it was his transition to hooker that provided the springboard to the captaincy and Gilchrist says his pal is now reaping his just rewards.

He said: "The fact Rambo (McInally) moved position at a relatively older age is remarkable. He was on the bench for Scotland as a back-rower. He 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 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 skipper. He sets an example to the whole squad and is always one of our best players - that's what I look for in a captain."

McInally's path to becoming a Scotland regular and one of the world's best front-row operators in the loose has not always been smooth.

Gilchrist knows how tough it was for his friend to establish himself for club and country given the injury battle he had to overcome in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, a tournament in which he saw just 66 minutes of action as his fitness woes struck again.

"Rambo has probably been one of my best mates over the last 10 years," said Gilchrist. "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."

Scotland's Japanese campaign gets under way a week on Sunday with a clash against Ireland.

Joe Schmidt's men are the favourites heading into the Yokohama showdown but Gilchrist says his team are in the mood to cause an upset.

He said: "We're not going there to make up the numbers. We're going there to win games."

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