THERE are few players who have worn the Scotland jersey over the past decade who have not received a fair dose of criticism for their performances, and so with the landmark of reaching 75 caps there is an inevitability that Sean Lamont has suffered for his.
Scotland has not suffered as a nation more than since the turn of the millennium, which means no matter how individual players have tried to improve their skills and attitudes and learned lessons, it has still not paid off for them. That is why as a nation we can be quick to grasp hold of signs of optimism, blindingly on occasions.
Lamont never has. He remains an optimistic character, but has been among the first to speak his mind in the dressing room win or lose, and led the way in bollocking team-mates at the failure to back-up wins. One senses, therefore, that it has been a difficult week for him. The winger-turned-centre wants to believe that Scotland are peering around a corner to new hope, but the 32-year-old has witnessed too many false dawns to believe it quite yet.
Instead, he has taken succour from the words of coaches Scott Johnson, Dean Ryan and Matt Taylor, in particular, and kept the focus on the basic skills of the game. Forget everything else. Even the 75th cap, where he joins seven others who have suffered like him – Chris Paterson, Scott Murray, Gregor Townsend, Mike Blair, Nathan Hines, Jason White and Gordon Bulloch. Focus on getting the little things right and maybe, just maybe, there will be something to hang on to at the end of it.
“It’s nice [to reach 75 caps],” he said, “but not what I want to finish on. I want a few more than that. It’s nice to say you’ve played well enough to warrant those caps, but I don’t want to count caps for the sake of counting caps. It’s nice to get them, but winning is more important. I’ve not really won much over my time as a player, but now Glasgow are in a good position to kick on, and you look at this tournament and it’s still open.
“OK, we might need England to drop one but they have been known to do that in the past and, if we can win every game from here, it puts us in with a shout. Now, that would be great, great for Scotland. I would love to see us do that and, to be fair, I wouldn’t care if I was dropped tomorrow and for the French game as long as the team went on and did something. You just want to see us win something.”
Asked whether his enthusiasm for the game had waned during long lean spells, Lamont sighed, looked at the group of journalists, opened his mouth and closed it again. And then said: “I suppose I try and pretend that it doesn’t. Losing makes it tough. But I love playing rugby. I love playing for Scotland and I’ll never officially retire.
“I can’t do it. I will always make myself available as long as I’m needed or wanted. If I’m 60 or 70 and my body’s working I’d still make myself available! But I’d hope Scotland were not that desperate to call me back up.”
What can be easy to forget in an increasingly commercialised world of sport, is that elite athletes, however fast and strong they may be, are human, with natural and learned strengths and weaknesses that even 15 years in the senior game cannot significantly alter.
Confidence, belief and limitless courage can not be ingested through an energy drink. Some, like Lamont, appear more innately confident than others, but 74 Test matches with the rare full stop of a victory must affect that.
Now, as his career enters the twilight phase, suggestions from Wales that he may be a weak link in the Scottish defence are shrugged aside. He has heard it before, many times in the ten seasons since he made a winning international debut against Samoa in 2004 and, with the emergence of quicker wingers Tim Visser and Sean Maitland that have pushed him into the 13 jersey, he has new belief that a 75th cap may prove less a landmark, more a springboard.
He added: “Losing makes this game suck and winning [against Italy and Ireland] has made it a completely different feeling from the autumn and this time last year, but we don’t want to be a flash in the pan. All the boys are saying it. One game meant nothing if we couldn’t back it up against Ireland, and we were lucky against Ireland. We need to back up with these next two games for it to mean something, to put us in a good position to achieve something.”