Six Nations: Millennium meltdown in the past for Sean Lamont
SEAN Lamont can remember the last time he faced Wales in the Millennium Stadium, but he wishes he couldn’t.
The last four minutes of that unique 2010 game are imprinted on the minds of all who were in the Cardiff stadium that day. The giant scoreboard showed 24-14 to Scotland as the game moved to 76 minutes. Scots supporters were dancing and Welsh cheers had a futile ring. They thought the game was gone. Even Jonathan Davies, the Welsh BBC pundit, was praising Scotland as being “too clinical and ruthless”. No, really, he was.
But, then Scotland lost replacement hooker Scott Lawson to the sin-bin for trying to step over a ruck, and then Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny popped a cork of fresh hope when he blitzed down the right touchline for a try. Stephen Jones converted and suddenly it was 21-24.
Into the final minute and Phil Godman was harshly ajudged to have impeded Lee Byrne on a chip-and-chase, while in mid-air, and he was shown a yellow card. The Millennium roared into life again.
With 40 seconds to go, Jones opted to kick the penalty and level the scores, and with Godman and Parks both off, Mike Blair was entrusted with restarting the game. He consulted the referee, who told him there was time for the kick – even though the stadium clock was past the 80 minutes – and that if he put the ball straight out Wales would have possession back on halfway. So … ach, you know the rest and it would serve no purpose to go back into that black hole. “Shane Williams” says it all.
But Scotland coach Andy Robinson did not refer to those four minutes of mayhem this week when asked where it all went wrong in 2010. Instead, he reflected on a passage of play in the 44th minute, when Lamont broke on the left and passed to Kelly Brown and the flanker beat the defence to score a try. But the pass from Lamont, delivered under pressure, had been forward. Poor execution has become a painful commentary on Robinson’s tenure.
Scotland had controlled the first hour of the match, Dan Parks, later voted Man of the Match, in his best form. Brown’s “try”, if converted, would have put Scotland 28-9 up and the Welsh, Robinson believed, too demoralised to come back.
“I remember it all too well,” said Lamont. “That was one of the weirdest games I’ve been involved in. Our whole back three [Chris Paterson, Rory Lamont and Thom Evans] were taken out by injuries and then we went down to 13 men.
“It was the worst post-match changing room I’ve ever been in. There were the injuries, obviously, especially when we found out how serious it was for Thom, then Mossy [Paterson] and Rory, but there was the way we had lost it. It was the lowest I’ve ever been post-game.
“That pass was part of it. International rugby is very fast and regardless of what club you play at, however many European games you play, this is a step-up and decisions have to be made instinctively. You don’t get the time to execute that you do in the Heineken or league games, but there’s no excuse.
“You look at the stats for that game in Wales and the Calcutta Cup match at the weekend, and we should never have lost those games. We let Wales in two years ago, and England never looked like scoring against us. They got one charge-down and a lucky bounce that fell at Hodgson’s feet, scored and won. Unbelievable.
“We know the problem and, believe me, the players more than anybody want to score tries. I should have got it right two years ago, and we should have finished chances on Saturday, but we can’t sort those games now. It’s about getting it right on Sunday.”
The big question is how, and having studied more video of the Calcutta Cup match Lamont is convinced that the key lies in players’ desire to gamble more.
“I tell you something that I picked from Saturday’s game, which few people probably saw but is huge,” he explained.
“When Richie Gray made his break I was trying to organise the next phase because I was expecting a hit on him, but he made a break and was away and I was a good 20 metres behind him on the openside, cursing myself for not being there.
“Maybe it’s because in the past we didn’t make as many breaks as we are now, or because we haven’t been finishing regularly, but we have to start gambling on guys getting through and just going, so that we’re there to finish off. When a player has options to pass it makes it a lot easier. You look at sides that are finishing and the guy who breaks most of the time has options right and left, so the pass is not forced, he’s more relaxed and the defence doesn’t have a chance of stopping it.
“We’ve spoken a lot about that this week and looked more at our running lines, or ‘cheat’ lines we run.”
“Cheat lines” have been popular in rugby league and Lamont mentioned how good Andy Craig used to be at finishing, the former rugby league player once scoring a hat-trick against Fiji. Dual code star Alan Tait remains Scotland’s most prolific finisher with 17 tries in 27 Test matches, including two against England at Twickenham. He was a master at picking lines that no-one else saw.
Lamont continued: “I remember watching games on the video at Glasgow and you’d see Craigy sprinting off screen as the camera followed the attack, and you’re thinking ‘where’s he going?’. Then, suddenly, he’d pop up to take the scoring pass and finish.
“It’s things like that. That’s been our biggest problem in my mind – guys are making breaks but others haven’t been reacting in time. The thing is we know as players we can do that. It’s about everyone switching on for the full 80 and doing it, and that’s the focus in Cardiff.”
Lamont is 31 and has 61 caps and, like many of this side, expects to be benefiting from that experience. He also has rare insight to the Welsh camp, having played with the Scarlets for nearly three seasons and, while he highly rates players such as George North and Jamie Roberts, his opposite number tomorrow, he remains confident Scotland’s defence can shut them out.
“People have asked me ‘can you stop George?’ But it’s not ‘can we?’ We must. We know they have big runners and a few in the backline. We have to stop them and we can do it. That’s just about fronting up on the day and doing it.
“They started well last week but hopefully they’ll be over-confident. It could work out quite well for us. If they don’t respect what we can do then we have the ability to do it. I’m hoping they are a bit complacent and we can steal a win.
“We’ve got to move on and redeem ourselves. It’s not so much revenge; we just want to get a win. There’s only so much losing you can take.”
Lamont concluded by rounding on critics of Dan Parks, but when asked whether the defeats and criticism ever got too much for him, he added: “Every rugby player goes through it [depressive periods], but you have to take the highs and the lows.
“The highs are brilliant and you wouldn’t give them up for anything. And there’s nothing like the camaraderie. It’s sport. I’ll keep plugging away until no longer required, but winning certainly makes it a lot more enjoyable.”
For the good of his and the nation’s health, one suspects that the turnaround has to begin in Cardiff tomorrow.
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