Stuart McInally declared it “a privilege” to have been able to end his rugby career at the Rugby World Cup with Scotland as he confirmed he has now retired from the game.
The 33-year-old hooker has endured a roller-coaster of emotions since he first announced in April his plan to retire after the global showpiece to pursue a new career as an airline pilot.
McInally, who captained Scotland at the last World Cup, looked on course for a fairytale career swansong in France this autumn when he was named in the provisional 41-man training squad in May but he suffered the anguish of being cut from the group when Gregor Townsend named his final 33 in August.
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McInally then got called out to France as cover for the concussed Ewan Ashman in the first week of September but he returned home when his fellow hooker recovered.
There was another twist in the tale when Dave Cherry fell on the stairs at the team hotel and suffered a tournament-ending concussion a fortnight ago, just after McInally had flown back to Scotland, so the long-serving Edinburgh forward was summoned back out to officially join the squad.
Agonisingly, however, just over a week after being added to the fray – and without playing a match at the tournament – he suffered a neck injury in training on Wednesday and it was revealed on Sunday night that he had been forced to withdraw from the squad and would not be able to win his elusive 50th cap.
McInally, who won the first of his 49 caps in 2015, posted a message on Instagram on Monday evening confirming that his “rugby story is over”.
“When I was at school I had a dream: to play rugby for Scotland,” he wrote. “That dream came true and I’ve had the time of my life.
“As Luke Patience (the British Olympic sailor) once said to me ‘it’s the arena that holds all of your hopes and dreams, but also your worst fears and nightmares’. And he wasn’t joking.
“Like all sportspeople, my story contains a mixture of highs and lows. On reflection, the good times have, overwhelmingly, outweighed the struggles and I wouldn’t change my journey. It has shaped who I am today.
“Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my career. There are far too many to name and I am forever grateful.
“And lastly thank you to the supporters. Without you, my dream of captaining and Scotland singing the national anthem at a sold-out Scottish Gas Murrayfield doesn’t happen.
“It was a privilege to end my career being being part of the 2023 Scotland Rugby World Cup squad and, for now, my rugby story is over.
“It’s time to start the next one.”
McInally’s message concluded with the emojis of an aeroplane and a pilot.