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Scotland: Lamont's unfinished business

Ever since that famous - or should that be apocryphal?

Sean Lamont still has targets to meet so he has no thoughts of retiring  Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Sean Lamont still has targets to meet so he has no thoughts of retiring Photograph: Stewart Attwood

- moment when George Best, surrounded by his casino winnings and in the company of the then Miss World, was asked by a hotel porter where things had all gone wrong, journalists have hesitated to suggest to apparently successful sportsmen that they could maybe have done just a little bit better for themselves.

Parked on a sofa in the Murrayfield reception area and wearied by a lengthy training session that had finished just a few minutes earlier, Sean Lamont was in little danger of recreating the scene in Best's Las Vegas hotel, but as he reflected on a Scotland career that is now almost a decade old he was happy to volunteer the admission that, yes, maybe it hadn't quite panned out as he hoped.

"I think last year's Six Nations flattered us slightly," he said. "We got a couple of lucky wins and other teams lost when they shouldn't have. Obviously, finishing third was good for us, but I think it did favour us slightly because we didn't play great rugby all the time. It was probably more a case that other teams didn't play well."

But then, Lamont has always been the most self-critical and demanding of players, never happy to settle for second best. Which may be why, in the course of winning 82 caps he has been in the starting line-up 79 times. When he was demoted to replacement duty against Wales three years ago, he signalled his anger with memorable fury, coming off the bench in the final quarter and playing like a man possessed.

It is worth remembering the impact Lamont made when he arrived on the Scotland Test scene in 2004. Until then, with only a few exceptions, Scottish wingers had tended to be willowy and quick, but the game was changing. Coaches were looking for turbo-charged tanks rather than will-o'-the-wisps, and Lamont was the first Scot who fitted that bill.

"Coaches know what they get from me," he shrugged. "I'm pretty straightforward and I think I've been pretty consistent. If I am playing well and things are going right then hopefully I'll get the call-up. If I'm not playing well then I don't deserve the shirt, that's the way it works. Or should work. You have to go on form."

It would be absurd to think of a player who has played in every position in the backline - bar scrum-half and fly-half - as a one-dimensional bruiser, but Lamont is wary of making claims about his skill set.

"The way I play rugby doesn't change very much from one position to another," he said. "Coaches know they're not going to get flashy distribution and silky hands from me, but I will run through a brick wall and carry repeatedly and make my tackles. If the coach wants to play me at 12 or 13 then he's going to have to get that balance elsewhere."

At 33, he knows the clock is ticking, but it is not exactly deafening just yet. He started all 11 Scotland Tests last year - at centre in the Six Nations, on the wing for everything else - and he has a couple of significant targets in mind as he wants to get to 100 caps and play in the next World Cup. Being picked again in the starting line-up for today's clash with Ireland in Dublin is a sign he is still on course.

So, too, do the comments of head coach Scott Johnson. "He's not just as good as he always was," said Johnson. "I think he's better. Since I have been here I think he's been exemplary. His workrate has increased dramatically. I think he's the same as Brian O'Driscoll; some players just get better with age.

"In my time here he has been first class as a leader for us. He is someone I go to to talk about things. I think he has showed great maturity on and off the pitch and he deals with the physical requirements impeccably. His longevity is not coincidence or luck. He is dedicated and skilful and he has matured. I'm really happy he's with us."

Lamont's enthusiasm is undimmed. "If I'm playing well enough to be selected up until the World Cup then I'll be close to the hundred," he said. "The thing is, I want to play for Scotland as long as I'm wanted, as long as I'm needed. I will keep putting myself forward until I'm surplus to requirements. I don't want to retire.

"If I deserve the call-up then I will carry on; until my mind doesn't want it or my body says enough. Of course, that might change, I might say I've had a good innings and think it's time to step aside, but that's not what I'm thinking at the moment. Ideally, I'd like to be kicked out. It would be a good thing for Scotland if somebody coming through just forced me out, but if not, I will truck on a bit longer."

Actually, there is a third significant target. "I've been in this championship for 10 years now and have not won it once," he said. "I would love to do it. It's been a long time since we won a title and it's about time we did it again.

"It is frustrating. We've had a couple of third places, great one-off wins, but we've not really had a great season. We do punch above our weight but consistency has been the big thing. We can do it, we've shown we can do it, but we haven't done it regularly enough. It's difficult to put your finger on why that's been. I just hope it is sorted out before my time is up."

By his own admission, Lamont was not always the dedicated figure he has become. When he first broke into the Scotland side he clearly enjoyed the trappings of stardom and success, his flamboyance measured by a shock of blonde hair that had come straight from the peroxide bottle.

That, and most other things in his life, have been toned down by the arrival of a young family, the year he spent on the sidelines with a serious knee injury, and the intimation of mortality provided by the fact his brother Rory had to give up the game due to an ankle problem.

"That did focus the mind," he said. "But stay in rugby long enough and you'll see a lot of guys retire around you. It's just part of the game, but it certainly does have more impact on you when it's family.

"So I have been lucky. I had that year out with my knee injury, but I have had a good run before and after that. I've never really looked back since then. My knee has been fine and I'll just chug along until something else gives up."

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