GREGOR Townsend admitted it was a wrench to leave Stuart McInally out of Scotland’s final Rugby World Cup squad after revealing the retiring hooker put his heart and soul into getting a career swansong in France.

The 33-year-old announced at the end of last season he would be hanging up his boots after this autumn’s global showpiece to start a new chapter as an airline pilot.

McInally, who captained Scotland into the last World Cup in Japan four years ago, has been part of Townsend’s extended training group this summer but he was among a quartet of players to suffer the agony of being cut loose on the eve of the final 33-man squad announcement on Wednesday morning.

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While scrum-half Jamie Dobie, back-row Josh Bayliss and tighthead prop Murphy Walker were also released, McInally – who won what looks like being the last of his 49 caps as a substitute in last weekend’s narrow defeat in France – was the highest-profile omission.

“It was really difficult,” head coach Townsend said of the decision, with McInally’s Edinburgh clubmates Dave Cherry and Ewan Ashman getting the nod over him in the hooker department alongside Glasgow’s George Turner. “I know it’s very tough for Stuart because he put everything into the training camp.

“He was one of our best trainers, he really was. He had two games off the bench this summer (against Italy and France) and played well but we just feel the blend with the hookers is the one we wanted for this tournament."

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Townsend, who also released Adam Hastings, Kyle Rowe, Stafford McDowall and Cam Henderson from the squad the weekend before last, admitted letting players down so close to the World Cup has been tough, but he insisted those omitted should keep themselves ticking over in case they are called upon in the coming weeks.

“There was obviously real disappointment,” he said following the conversations with those who failed to make the squad. “You’ll get different views and different conversations.

“Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes they’re very grateful for the opportunity they’ve had over the last two months and sometimes there’s anger that they’ve missed out on something that’s a big goal in their lives.

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“What I’ve said to all of them is, ‘be ready for your opportunity’ because our sport involves injuries, so I’d be very surprised if the 33 we’ve announced today remains the same as we go through the tournament. Those players that missed out could still play a big role at this tournament.”