HE IS almost certain to be the oldest player in the backline when the Scotland team to play Japan on Saturday is announced at lunchtime today, but Sean Lamont says he is relaxed about the relentless march of time because he feels as fresh, fit and motivated as he did when he first broke through at international level in the summer of 2004.
At 32, he would still be a relatively young man in most walks of life, but in the world of professional sport Lamont now ranks as something of an elder statesman – not that you would guess it from hearing him talk about his ambitions of playing at the next Rugby World Cup in 2015, and beyond.
“Like most players I’m just happy to be on the pitch. I just love rugby. I have no plans to retire. The way I have been feeling I reckon I’ll go on until I’m 38, at least – and never mind the Vets [veteran matches], I plan to still be involved in Glasgow at that time,” he said. “If you can keep clear of major injuries, and provided you are playing well enough, then I don’t see why you can’t keep going.
“I’m feeling really good this year. Conditioning-wise I’m probably as fit as I have ever been and speed-wise I’m feeling great as well. Nothing changes with age, it just means you have to work a bit harder – but I’ve got no problem with that. As long as you have that want and desire to keep playing, which I do, then you’ll go that extra mile to make sure you are as fit as anyone else in the team.
“I love training and I love the one-upmanship that goes on. But at the same time, on a personal level, it is good to get the scores, and it feels great when you beat them and you know you are still improving.”
As one of the great survivors of the Scotland set-up he has seen plenty of players come and go during the last nine years, including his younger brother Rory, whose career was blighted by injuries until he was forced to retire from the game at the end of last season having failed to recover from a broken leg suffered during the 2012 Six Nations.
He is aware of how hard adjusting to life after rugby can be and that is clearly a driving force in Lamont’s desire to keep going as long as possible.
“It is a difficult transition for any rugby player to go from being part of such a close-knit group of guys to the real world, and because it can happen so easily you do treat every match as your last,” he said.
“It is a funny balancing act. You don’t want to dwell on it too much because if you spend too long thinking about injuries it will affect your performance, but at the same time I think you can get benefit from being aware of the fact that our time in this game is very limited.”
That desire to get the maximum out of his career was a key factor in Lamont’s decision to leave Glasgow Warriors (the club where he had made his name) to test himself in the English Premiership with Northampton Saints in 2005. The same thought process was at play when he came back to the Warriors for the start of last season.
“When I left Glasgow there was nobody pushing me for my place and I thought it was getting too easy for me. There were times when I would be injured all week but as long as I was fit for the Friday team run and game I’d play. You get in a comfort zone and that’s the worst place to be as a competitive sportsman because you get complacent,” he explained.
“And a big factor for me coming back was that Glasgow had by then built up the squad and were going in the right direction. I also have very firm aspirations of making the next World Cup and playing in Scotland seems to me the best way to realise that dream. It just means you are free from these arguments about player release, and so on.”
Lamont must have been delighted to hear Scott Johnson talking recently about the need to nurture versatility within the squad as Scotland build towards the World Cup, because while he initially came to the fore as a winger, he has in recent seasons played almost as often in the centre, with his work-rate and power making him a pretty useful midfield battering ram.
“If the coaches want me to play in the centre then they know what they are going to get. I am not going to be the guy who distributes the ball amazingly with all the flair you get from guys like Brian O’Driscoll; I am going to be the guy who takes the ball and runs really hard. If you want somebody to run into a brick wall repeatedly then I can do that for you. If you want someone to pass the ball fluidly then miss me out,” he said.
While Lamont happily acknowledges his limitations as a link man, he is clearly offended when it is suggested that he might have to play in the centre more often as age takes its toll on his pace. “I’m the second fastest in the Glasgow squad and only just behind Sean Maitland – who is really fast,” he said. ‘It’s just I don’t often get the ball in a lot of space.”
It is likely Lamont will be on the wing this week. The Edinburgh duo of Matt Scott and Nick De Luca are fit and playing well so they will pair up in the centre, while injuries to Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Peter Murchie have severely reduced Johnson’s options in the back three.