Sean Lamont: Tonga will test Scotland character

Sean Lamont, at training yesterday, says that Scotland have to back up their early form under Cotter. Picture: SNS
Sean Lamont, at training yesterday, says that Scotland have to back up their early form under Cotter. Picture: SNS
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SEAN Lamont has admitted that the improvement Scotland have made under Vern Cotter will count for nothing if the team fails to deliver against Tonga at the weekend.

Cotter’s team have had three wins out of four on the summer tour, a first home victory over Argentina in five attempts and the closest game against New Zealand since 1991.

But Lamont knows from long and sometimes bitter experience that Scotland can play well for a game or two only to ­suffer a sudden, inexplicable drop in form.

However, he believes that this time the squad can maintain the high standards they have set for themselves in the first months of Cotter’s tenure as head coach.

Lamont – who won his 90th cap against the All Blacks when replacing the injured Mark Bennett and is set to start at Rugby Park on Saturday – said: “There have been times in the past when we have a couple of good showings then dropped off.

“That is not what we want to do this time round. It’s very ­important that we don’t after pushing the All Blacks close, and for Scottish rugby in general we need to keep kicking on.

“The squad at the moment has got some real depth that maybe we’ve not had for a long time. Obviously we’ve had some depth in some positions, but at the moment there’s good depth from one to 15 and on the bench.

“It’s a good place to be. There’s some real pride and passion in the jersey. We’ve gone back to the drawing board and had a look at ourselves; we’ve built proper foundations and culture.

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“We’re only custodians of the jersey. We’ve looked back at the history, the players lost in the world wars. It’s something we’re trying to create to push forward, not just for the squad but for those to come.”

On the face of it, not a great deal has changed since that day in Pittodrie two years ago when the Tongans beat Scotland for the first time.

Lamont, Greig Laidlaw and other key players from that ­defeat are still in the squad, for example. But the 33-year-old, who plans to remain in rugby as a strength and conditioning coach when his playing days end, is confident that there has been a real, and lasting alteration in the mindset and morale of the players.

“It was a pretty dark, close game,” he said of that 15-21 ­defeat – Andy Robinson’s last match in charge of Scotland. “To be honest, I’ve had some bad losses, but that was about the most horrendous. Not just because we didn’t want to give Tonga their first win over Scotland, but because it cost a man his job – a man I got on well with and liked.

“The buck stops somewhere. To be fair, it was the players on the day that didn’t turn up and cost us the game. Not a nice memory.

“Something has changed [since then]. The focus I’ve ­noticed is the culture. There’s a good feeling and competition for places again. If you don’t have the competition, that’s when complacency sets in and people don’t push themselves more.

“Because we have the ­competition back, people are working that little bit harder, and that’s starting to make a ­difference.

“There has been plenty of talk in the past about we’re going to do this, going to do that. The fact is, we’re at a point where we can realise our potential. We have to back it up this weekend, otherwise it’s just talk again. I’ve been here before.

“We have to back it up this weekend. [In the past] we have a couple of good showings only to drop off again. We’re at a point where we can really move ­forward.

“As a squad, the weekend helped our self-belief. That has always been a big issue. From playing around the world I know the Scottish players are harder on themselves than any other nation. I can say that without a doubt. Errors happen. You have to dust it off and get on with it.”

Lamont is not yet the oldest member of the playing group – the honour of being “the Squadfather”, as he terms it, is ­currently held by 34-year-old Euan Murray – but at his age he knows his time in the team is limited. So is it a case of holding on until he reaches his century of caps and then calling it a day?

Not a bit of it. For a start, ­Lamont wants to go on as long as the coaches deem him ­worthy of ­selection, not just for ­another ten games. And in any case, if those coaches decide ­before then that he is surplus to ­requirements, he will accept that their verdict may be for the greater good.

Lamont said: “I’ll never declare myself unneeded. Someone will do it for me.

“I’m not here to count caps – I’m here to do whatever I can do for Scotland. It [100 caps] would be a nice landmark. If I’m ­playing well and get there, I deserve it. If someone is playing better and I don’t get there, so be it. It’s whatever is best for ­Scotland. As you get older you appreciate every little bit you can get.

“Over my career I’ve gone from ‘Me first’ to ‘It’s got to be Scotland first’. That’s where I am. If I’m not used this weekend, that’s fine.

“I won’t be happy about it, but if that’s what the boss thinks is best for Scotland then that is it. I’ll take everything I can, but nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed.”

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