SEAN Lamont is closing in steadily on his 100th cap and, at times, he might well have felt he had toiled for a century in the national cause. First capped in 2004, the Glasgow winger has had the misfortune to be on the scene during a particularly barren period for Scottish rugby.
Some of the results and experiences over that decade and more would have been enough to defeat a lesser man, but Lamont, now 34, has kept up his high standards throughout. Indeed, after some heavy losses, when many of his team-mates preferred not to give interviews, he has invariably fronted up, frequently offering a severely self- critical assessment of the game.
Such an attitude, combined with his irrepressible enthusiasm, has made Lamont something akin to the conscience of the squad. It is an approach which has impressed Vern Cotter, who once Tommy Seymour was ruled out with injury had little hesitation in selecting Lamont for what will be his 92nd cap on Sunday.
“Sean brings us experience,” the coach said yesterday. “He’s an influential person within the group, an old head who sets standards for himself and his team-mates. It’s good to get him back in there and get him involved again.
“We don’t have an enormous amount of depth in that position, although, in saying that, Sean has impressed me with his attitude and professionalism. Right from the start, he has set standards within the group.
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“He’s been absolutely outstanding since I’ve been here, just making sure that things are done right.
“He’s come back fully fit, he gives us speed and strength, he’s a big man – and he’s got a fierce determination to play well. I think he’s a great asset to the group.
“Supposedly, he had an injury that was going to last a couple of weeks. But Sean seems to heal a lot quicker than everybody else. He looks after himself, he’s passed rigorous tests, and that’s why he’s available.”
Lamont himself has always said he will never retire from international rugby, but will leave that decision to the selectors. The goal of getting to that 100th cap may help keep him going, but the real impetus is the desire to be a Six Nations champion at long last.
“I love playing for Scotland,” he said yesterday. “It’s something I love to do and will continue to do until no longer wanted. To get another chance to pull on the blue shirt is massive for me. I can still reach 100 caps, but I’d need to go into the World Cup to achieve that.
“We’re in a good place with players and the talent we have now, and we’re pushing each other all the way. It’s a good place to be, with the depth of talent we have, and it means nobody can be complacent. If you’re not playing well enough then someone’s waiting to take your place. There have been times in the past when that’s not been the case and that’s meant guys can take their foot off the gas.
“If I play well and deserve another shot, then I’ll be happy with that. If I don’t, then the next person will come in.
“This is a new year and another chance. We’re setting out to win this thing and I’ve been trying do it for 11 years and not managed to win one yet. I want to get one before I finish up.”
If that elusive championship title is going to come his way this year, Lamont is all but certain that he and his team-mates have to win tomorrow. If a home defeat by Wales follows last week’s loss in France, only an improbable sequence of results – in other fixtures as well as in their own remaining matches – would give Scotland any hope. Better by far, he believes, to hold your destiny in your own hands.
“I think whoever loses is out of it. It then depends on maths and on who wins and loses and it’s out of your hands. Even if you win your next few games, then it’d be down to who beats who and by how much and becomes very messy.
“For too many years we’ve said ‘Well, we’ve had a good autumn’ and then fallen flat. Last year was a classic example. We need to win every game in the tournament now to have a chance of winning it and that starts against Wales.
“They’re a damned good side and have some talented players. They’re physical and they’ll try to bully us, but we need to match them physically and we’ve done that in the games we’ve played well.
“This Scotland team has a superb fitness. We can keep on going when other teams tire themselves out. We’ve always been that little bit lighter than the rest, but we’ll try for everything.
“We do like that underdog status and that’s what we’ll have again going into this game. Nobody expects us to win but, if we stick to our systems and restrict our penalty count and take the game to them, then we’ll be in a good place.”
Lamont has perforce inhabited a lot of bad places during his time with Scotland. Few would begrudge him his place in the sun if he achieves some success with Scotland after soldiering on for so long.