The hole-in-the-heart rookie England lock who flies RAF planes
Out of all the dozen uncapped rookies contained in the England matchday squad to take on the USA on Sunday at Twickenham, the backstory to Josh McNally is the most intriguing, the soon-to-be 31-year-old lock chosen to start for his country following a circuitous route to the top.
For starters, he wasn’t mean to be involved in this summer series as his call-up only came about midway through the first week when he was asked to replace initial squad pick Sean Robinson who suffered an MCL knee injury at training.
But this fortuitous England development on June 16 doesn’t even scratch the surface of the compelling story behind McNally. He joined the airforce at the age of 19 and was working there full-time until he eventually secured a full-time rugby player contract at the age of 25 having made a Championship level breakthrough with London Welsh.
Their demise led to a shift to London Irish and it was there in October 2017 that he suffered the minor stroke that was eventually diagnosed as a hole in the heart that could have wiped out his rugby career. One procedure later, though, and he was able to resume playing and his efforts at Bath these past two seasons have now culminated in his first England selection.
England boss Eddie Jones was chuffed for the forward. “He flies planes for a living. He is a good sense guy, tough, probably never thought he would have this opportunity, he has come into the camp, taken every day like we want the players to take it and it’s something he should be grateful for.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 2, 2021
“He has worked hard to get better every day, he has done that. A really terrific character and it’s a great story, isn’t it? We should also be grateful to RAF that they allow servicemen with sporting skills to play professional sport and we are so indebted to RAF to have him available to play. We are expecting a good, tough performance from him on Sunday.”
It was earlier in the week on the RFU’s O2 Inside Line series that McNally spoke about his admirable journey back from adversity to gaining an England cap. “I came off the pitch off the pitch and had a very minor stroke,” he explained. “I went through a pretty dark time of potentially retiring, had no idea what caused it and it was a hole in the heart so I had minor heart surgery and could continue playing rugby a few months later.
“I thought I was going to retire and it also brought into question whether I could go back into the airforce. That was probably the darkest time. Once I got my second opportunity to play rugby it was an unbelievable weight off my shoulders. Since then I have taken my game to the next level and just know that I really don’t want to waste it.
“I have come through a very different method to a lot of the guys, just being in the airforce since I was 19. They were the ones that sort of really picked me up and pushed me through and it wasn’t until I was 25 when I finally got a professional contract and have slowly been on the up from there. For me, I thought the door had been shut with England coming to rugby late.
“I probably thought I was going to be a Premiership player for the rest of my career and I just want to now see can I develop another bit to take me to that next level, learn as much as I can here off the coaches, off the other players here and make the most of it.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 3, 2021
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