IN NAMING a strong squad for the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens tournament, Scotland’s head coach Stephen Gemmell certainly pulled off a couple of surprises. Namely, the selection of veteran Sean Lamont and his Glasgow Warriors colleague Tommy Seymour.
No pundit, nor indeed many coaches and players, had seen their inclusion coming, if only because Seymour hadn’t played sevens of any seriousness, while Lamont last played for Scotland’s seven in 2009, having made his debut for the national seven at the Commonwealth Games as far back as 2002 in Manchester.
There have been suggestions that Lamont and Seymour were chosen as crowd-pleasers, and that those players who had given the Scottish seven their best efforts all season should have been preferred. Lamont confessed that he did feel rueful at being named ahead of the likes of Andrew Turnbull and Chris Dean.
“It’s one of those Catch 22 situations,” said Lamont. “You realise these guys have been doing it every tournament and you do feel guilty and I’ve got to earn my stripes. I might have 86 caps for Scotland but at sevens I’m the new boy again so I’ll have to show I deserve a place and I’ll have to earn it, too.”
Intriguingly, not least because Lamont’s selection really will please the Glasgow crowd, the player himself revealed a hint that his selection could have been about giving the Scotland fans someone a familiar face to shout for. The SRU chief executive Mark Dodson was the man who first suggested to Lamont that he could play, and conspiracy theorists might consider that intervention to be about selling tickets by putting in a big name from the XV-a-side national team.
Lamont said: “It was first broached by Mark Dodson in the Italy week in the Six Nations. [He] just said it in passing, ‘Would you like to do the sevens?’ and it wasn’t until later down the line, Scott Johnson got in touch, Stevie Gemmell got in touch and I got the call saying I’d made the squad – I was fairly chuffed to be honest.”
There’s surely nothing wrong with taking your most-capped current player and putting him back in an arena where he has starred for Scotland before, albeit 12 years ago.
“I’ve always wanted to do another Commie Games,” said Lamont. “I’ve always been a big fan of sevens but 2009 was the last time I played and 2002 was the first time, so 12 years apart, makes me feel a lot older than the rest of them, that’s for sure.
“As soon as Stevie offered me it I just about bit his arm off as I love the sevens. There’s going to be a lot of good, hard graft this summer getting myself back up to speed.
“There are guys here who have done the tournaments, like Colin Gregor, who’s Mr Sevens, I might have been around before he started but I’ve been out the loop. I’ve said it many times before you’re a long time retired so while I’m in demand I’ll do whatever’s asked of me.”
Lamont will be going on at least the transatlantic part of the summer tour and will surely gain the two caps he needs to overtake Scott Murray and become Scotland’s second most-capped player behind only Chris Paterson.
Then it will be a gruelling few weeks of hard training ahead of the sevens tournament at Ibrox Park on 26 and 27 July, with Scotland playing New Zealand, Canada and Barbados in the group stage.
“This is a different animal,” said Lamont. “It’s rugby but it could almost be a completely different sport. XVs is more physical and it’s generally against bigger guys but, as a winger in XVs, if you get 15 touches of the ball in a game that’s a high workload.
“In 14 minutes, you do the same amount you do in 80 minutes of XVs but all of it, the bits in between, are still high intensity, you’re still doing three-quarter paced stuff when you’ve not got the ball because you’ve got to get back into position,” added Lamont.
“You’ve got to make your tackles as well, you’re against faster guys, fitter guys, you look at the New Zealand team, they are big guys, they’re incredibly fit and incredibly strong and they’ve got a damned sight more space to move you about.
“There’ll be more high-intensity running because long-distance running is aerobic, whereas sevens is mostly anaerobic.
“If you get your top-end sprint really good, get yourself really efficient at running at maximum pace, maybe not at maximum, it’ll be easier to do. It makes me cringe thinking about what I’m having to do but there’s no way I’m not doing it, representing your country at a Commonwealth Games, not just in your own country but in your home town, for me there’s no way I was saying no.”
Another reason for wanting to participate is Lamont’s feeling of gratitude to the Commonwealth Games sevens for beginning his career.
“Manchester was my big break,” said Lamont. “I got a pro contract off the back of doing the Commie Games and it really was a kickstart.
“The first thing was the NRG Thistles at Melrose, then I got a little stint with Scotland which got me the break but the big spotlight thing was the Manchester Games. We did not too bad there, won the Bowl Final which was good for us at the time.”
Now he is aiming higher, especially after Scotland’s good showing at the Glasgow round of the IRB sevens.
Lamont said: “Coming back with a Commonwealth medal, if we can do that…
“Glasgow showed we’ve got the potential, I think we’ve got a great team that’s been selected, so imagine coming out with a medal of any colour – definitely a career highlight.”
A 50,000 crowd at Ibrox, 90 per cent of them Scottish, will be a big help. “It makes a difference when the crowd is behind one team,” acknowledged Lamont. “It can be quite oppressive to the opposition on the receiving end of it. And it does affect referees’ decisions even if people say it doesn’t.”
At 33, Lamont knows this is probably his last chance at success for Scotland. It’s a chance he will do everything in his power to take.