Veteran hooker Scott Lawson is clearly relishing every second of being back in the Scotland set-up after a near four-year gap and, after earning what would have been an unlikely recall until front-row players started dropping like flies this season, is going to do his damndest to stick around as long as he can.
The 36-year-old has been playing some of the best rugby of his career for a flying Newcastle Falcons side and has no thoughts of retirement on the near horizon. Rather than consider hanging up his boots, Lawson is more relaxed about sticking around long enough to beat the legendary Ian McLauchlan’s record for oldest Scotland appearance as a 37-year-old against the All Blacks in 1979.
For the time being, Lawson, whose last cap for Scotland came against Argentina in the summer of 2014, will go fourth on the list of golden oldies if he takes the field in the Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff a week on Saturday.
“When Ian was involved in the presidency he was brilliant, he was involved and held ultimate respect from all the players because of what he had achieved in the game,” said Lawson of the former Lions prop. “His big thing was ‘play as long as you can, enjoy it, you never, never go out of it, you are a long time retired’. I will keep going like that.
“To be mentioned in the same breath is ridiculous, crazy. It is one of those strange things that if you sat in a goal-setting meeting it is not one of those things you would bring up, it would not spring to mind but why not? We will get these weeks out of the way first and you learn from experiences.”
Lanarkshire man Lawson, a product of Biggar RFC, left Glasgow in 2007 and has enjoyed a good career in the English Premiership, playing for Sale, Gloucester and London Irish before four-and-a-half years ago becoming another of a long list of Scots who have found a happy home at Newcastle Falcons.
He had a brief involvement at the start of Vern Cotter’s tenure but had slipped out of the picture as the likes of Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally emerged and Ross Ford, who Lawson often deputised for off the bench in his 46 Scotland outings, rolled on to become the country’s most-capped player.
There was, though, always a hope that another chance might come.
“You always keep an eye on things,” he said. “Playing at Newcastle, playing in the Premiership in a very successful team, you’re always working hard and trying to play at as high a level as possible.
“So you’re always aware of the situation and obviously if a couple of key figures get injured you’re always holding out so point that your performances you’ve put in over the last two or three years have been noted. That was the most pleasing thing for me, yes, you’ve been playing well and yes, you’ve been selected again.
“Gregor phoned me last Monday morning saying they were having the final selection that afternoon and he’d be in touch. Then [forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] phoned me and talked through a few things, what was expected of me, where the group was and how I’d fit into it. And I’m just delighted to be back.
“Anyone who has ever been involved in Test rugby, you always look out for the squads. You’re competitive and if you keep playing and pulling on that professional jersey, you’ll always want to play for Scotland.”
A father of four, Lawson has thrived in England’s north-east and said having his kids experience seeing him represent Scotland will be as big a thrill as he has had in the sport.
While focused on the present and squeezing as much out of his playing career as he possibly can, there is an eye to a future in coaching. In his spare time, Lawson has taken on a head coach role at the renowned Corbridge club Tynedale and has travelled to Scotland to help at Glasgow and the Under-20s.
“You become more professional, you learn how to look after your body. I genuinely don’t find it any harder,” said Lawson of his Indian summer.
“At Newcastle, we had a real shift in our conditioning, our approach to the game and I’m feeling as good as I ever have done. I would say to take all that knowledge you’ve got, allied to feeling good physically, I’m really looking forward to the challenge that an intense Six Nations championship brings.
“When you first come in people say that as a front-row you’ll not be good until you’re in your thirties and you don’t really believe them as such, but your ability to problem solve, to fix things from scrum to scrum has definitely been one of my main improvements over the last four or five years and even in the last 18 months to two years at Newcastle where we’ve had a really good set-piece and scrum.
“So, when I look back to my younger playing days I think it’s been my scrummaging. My lineout has been the perceived weakness of my game when I was younger – as it is with all young hookers – and you come now and it’s the thing I would pride myself on the most.”
THE OLDEST PLAYERS TO REPRESENT SCOTLAND
I McLauchlan 37y 210d v New Zealand, Murrayfield (10 Nov 1979)
J Aitken 36y 172d v Romania, Bucharest (12 May 1984)
NA Rowan 36y 170d v England, Murrayfield (5 Mar 1988)
G Graham 36y 77d v Wales, Millennium Stadium (6 Apr 2002)
AJ Tomes 35y 212d v New Zealand, Christchurch (6 Jun 1987)
SF Lamont 35y 162d v Japan, Tokyo (25 Jun 2016)
AV Tait 35y 114d v New Zealand, Murrayfield (24 Oct 1999)
W Cuthbertson 35y 2d v Australia, Murrayfield (8 Dec 1984)
DF Cronin 34y 339d v England, Murrayfield (22 Mar 1998)
NJ Hines 34y 306d v England, Auckland (1 Oct 2011)