IN A 93-cap career spanning 11 years, Sean Lamont has experienced more than his fair share of defeat and disappointment in the dark blue. However, the irrepressible 34-year-old’s glass half-full mindset has never wavered and he bounded into Scotland’s training camp this week brimming with trademark positivity bidding for a hat-trick of World Cup appearances.
The wing/centre made his cap debut in 2004 and, not only did he make the squad for the the last two tournaments, he has played in every one of his country’s World Cup games with the exception of the pool match with New Zealand in 2007, when coach Frank Hadden controversially fielded a weakened team at Murrayfield and the All Blacks cantered to 40-0 win.
“If you don’t believe you can win it then you shouldn’t be here”Sean Lamont
Having been involved in the recent Six Nations and offering the twin assets of experience and versatility, Lamont is a reasonable bet to make Vern Cotter’s final squad of 31, although he is taking nothing for granted.
“Final selection is down to the boss, but I will be pushing myself,” said the Glasgow Warriors player. “It’s a World Cup. Not many people get the chance to do one, and I’m trying to get to my third. It’s something special.”
If he does make the squad then he will very much be in it to win it. The SRU’s well-documented ambitious target has attracted much ridicule since it appeared in the 2012 four-year strategic plan, and coach Cotter is keen to play down any talk of targets, but the ever optimistic Lamont sees no reason why Scotland shouldn’t aim high.
“On our day we can do it,” he insisted. “It is a case of getting all the foundations right, having that belief and taking nothing for granted. Look at our pool. If we are not on form for every game then Japan will be a banana skin, USA will be a banana skin, Samoa will be a tough test. But we can beat South Africa because we’ve done it before. If you’re not going out to win it, don’t believe you can win it then you shouldn’t be here. We have pushed the top three teams before. Why not? Every dog has its day. It is a case of everyone in the team and the whole nation believing it and backing us.
“I still think we need to go out thinking we can win this. There is no other way of doing it.”
Several of Scotland’s veterans have spoken of the big advances made by the sport in each of the four-year World Cup cycles and how each event takes on a new identity. Lamont is no different.
“They all differ,” he explained. “For myself the first one was like, ‘wow, I’m in a World Cup’. For the second one it was, ‘right, here we go again’. Now, this one is my last chance of a World Cup so the focus is definitely there. Something I want to impart to younger players and the first timers is that you have to understand how special this is.
“There will be guys who go through all the training, all the hard work, all the graft and then miss out. I take nothing for granted. Greig Laidlaw missed out at the last World Cup. He trained really well but didn’t get to go. It’s just the way it is. It happens. You’ve got to use that as motivation.
“We have a squad of 46 that has to be cut down to 31. So the guys who do go have to understand how special this is. Whether it is your first or your last it is a different animal to all the rugby you’ve done before. For my part, I’ll be pushing myself bloody hard.”
With four warm-up games then four pool stage matches at least to come it is theoretically possible that Lamont could end the year as Scotland’s second cap centurion, joining Chris Paterson in that elite club. He is currently in the “nervous nineties” to use a cricketing term but admits that thoughts do drift to the possibility of a 100th cap.
He said: “Yes, I’d like it and you do think of it with me being on 93, but I’ve said this before – I take nothing for granted. I’ve always said I would never retire. You don’t know when your last game is going to be. You think of guys who have been in, even in the last Six Nations, and who are not here now. Things change in rugby bloody quickly.”
Lamont is looking forward to spending an extensive period in the national set-up, including a trip to the French Pyrenees this week for altitude training.
“Time spent with each other is critical,” he said. “World Cup preparations are one of the rare times a national squad gets together for a whole pre-season. Normally you come in a week before the Six Nations, or you might get a three-day camp, which is not a lot of time to get everyone on form and get systems nailed down. But a World Cup allows you to do that.”
Of course, a World Cup allows everyone to do that and, for a team like Samoa, whose time spent together is even more limited than Scotland’s, it could prove invaluable ahead of the crunch final Pool C game at St James’ Park on 10 October.
“It [the long build-up] does work for everyone,” he said. “Japan have come on massively over the years and they are not the team we beat by 100 points all those years ago. America have kicked on as well.
“Our group by no means just comes down to that game [against Samoa] especially with the schedule we’ve got. We have a Wednesday-Sunday-Saturday turnaround for the first three games which is tough and it will require a whole squad effort. We have to be focused on taking it to every team, and we can. We can do it.”
Lamont will hope this “can do” spirit carries him to a third World Cup and one last chance to shine on the global stage.