90-cap Sean Lamont still hurt by that Tonga defeat

Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand (2nd L)  tackles Sean Lamont (2nd R). Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand (2nd L) tackles Sean Lamont (2nd R). Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
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When Sean Lamont came off the bench to replace the injured Mark Bennett at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, he not only slipped into the centre position, but also the Scotland rugby record books.

In extending a cap career which began a decade ago, Lamont, 33, below, made his 90th appearance – an achievement matched only by Chris Paterson, whose innings eventually closed on 109. Three Scots – Gregor Townsend (82), Mike Blair (85) and Scott Murray (87) – made it into the 80s and Lamont admits experience has taught him to take nothing for granted.

Lamont, whose ultimate goal is to become the second Scot to a century of caps, which would probably occur in next year’s World Cup, said: “As you get older, you appreciate everything you get. As I have wound through my career, I have gone away from ‘me first’ to realising it has got to be ‘Scotland first’.”

Scotland complete the viagogo Autumn Test series against Tonga in Kilmarnock on Saturday and if he retains his place then Lamont will, as always, give it his best shot.

On the other hand, if coach Vern Cotter opts for an alternative to the already ruled-out Bennett (hamstring), then Glasgow Warrior Lamont will be philosophical.

“I’m here to do whatever I can for Scotland and I’ll never declare myself surplus. Somebody will do it for me.

“I’ll never retire from internationals. If I am not picked I’ll not be happy about it, but if the boss thinks somebody else is best for Scotland, that’s what it will be.”

One of his caps came in the previous encounter with Tonga at Aberdeen two years ago and the defeat for Scotland remains a stain on his international career.

“It was a pretty dark game. We’ve had bad losses, but that was among the most horrendous, not just because we gave Tonga a first win over Scotland, but it cost a man (coach Andy Robinson) I got on well with and liked his job. It is not a nice memory.

“I know the buck stops somewhere, but it wasn’t the game plan that was wrong. It was the players on the day who just didn’t turn up. It is so hard to take, but that is the way it is, players go back to clubs and the team re-build for the Six Nations. But it cost a man his job.

“Three times we got the ball over the whitewash and the referee ruled we didn’t ground the ball or didn’t give a try for some other reason.

“Scott Johnson (director of rugby) talks about how you get around seven chances in a match and that was us not taking advantage of three of them. That has to change.”

Setting the record straight is what will motivate Scotland this weekend. Although not inclined to make excuses he acknowledges that the Aberdeen football pitch was narrower than rugby teams normally play on, and that could have aided opponents keen to take the direct approach through their forwards.

“The question is often asked why we always play the big hitting islanders on the narrowest pitch we can find,” laughed Lamont, who was happier to talk of general improvements without quite being able to pinpoint the turning point. “What’s changed since we last played Tonga? A big change has to be Vern taking over but I don’t know what exactly has changed. Something has, though.

“The culture thing is maybe one aspect. We have looked at the guys who have gone before us including players lost in both world wars.

“It has really put a focus on us and in the last two games it has shown. There’s some real pride and passion in the jersey after we went back to the drawing board and had a look at ourselves in trying to build some proper foundations.

“Although there is just a good feeling around the squad we are also getting a depth of players.

“From 1-15 on the pitch and right through the bench there is greater depth coming on the back of the summer tour.

“If you don’t have that depth people don’t push themselves that bit harder. That is starting to make the difference, but we have to back it up this weekend.

“We are more than aware of what is coming up and it is also important we back up the win over Argentina and pushing the All Blacks hard which helped our self belief.

“That has always been a big issue – Scottish players are harder on themselves than any other nation.

“We’ve had a couple of good weeks and sometimes there has been quite a lot of talk in advance about wanting to do this or that and then not fulfilling.

“Now we are at the point where we can start fulfilling out potential.”