Fitness, vibrant kilts and Sevens
July 25, 2014
© PA Photos
"We are going for gold, no doubt about that," was the rallying cry from Sean Lamont when asked about Scotland's aims for their home Commonwealth Games. Nine words easy enough to say, but fiercely difficult to make a reality. The rugby side of the Games have been painted a shade of black in the past four events with the Kiwis picking up a quartet of trophies. They are the favourites heading into this weekend's tournament at Ibrox but home support can do weird things, it can make or break a team.
For Lamont the Games dream became a reality during the week leading up to Scotland's game against Italy back in February. The odd toe was dipped in the water to establish whether Lamont was keen on returning to the short-form of the game, one that he last played in back in 2009, and then came the phone call where he became a bonafide member of Team Scotland.
His involvement in the Scotland Sevens team completes a full circle for his career. Back in 2001 Lamont was looking for a break and Sevens provided that launchpad. He played in the Melrose Sevens at the turn of the millennium and then ran out in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games where his performances earned him a move from Rotherham to Glasgow. Since then he enjoyed spells at Northampton, Scarlets and is now back at the Warriors with 88 caps for Scotland under his belt.
On duty in the Six Nations © Getty Images
The body may ache a little more after the games these days than it did back in 2002, but the hunger is just the same though the Games have given him a reminder of the levels of fitness required to play Sevens. The training is a different beast to what he has experienced in XVs over the past decade.
"I've always enjoyed Sevens, the shorter version of the game, as it's great fun as you get plenty of space and ball," Lamont told ESPN. "It's hard on the fitness side but the positives outweigh the negatives.
"In training there's plenty of running and there's still time for weights, there always is. You need skills here and there but the best way to try out systems and patterns is to play games and that's what we've been doing a lot of. You don't really notice the fitness as much as you are still covering the distances in the games but as you are playing and not running in straight lines without the ball, it brings an enjoyment to it."
Sevens resonates with Lamont, his excitement for the weekend's two days of rugby was palpable when we spoke. Had Sevens offered him the same financial security as the XV form of the game did when he was younger, he may have steered his career in that direction rather than into the full-fat version of the sport.
Since the 2002 Games, he turned his hand at Sevens for the 2009 Murrayfield leg of the IRB World Series, a leg that saw Scotland lose to South Africa in the semi-finals. Since then Sevens has taken on a bigger clout in the rugby world, it becomes ever more modernised year on year and the Scotland vintage of 2014 have been put through rigorous camps to ensure they are in top fettle for Saturday.
"Our training started about five or six weeks ago," Lamont said. "We started in Ravenscraig where we had two to three weeks and then two weeks in Stirling and then the final week in the village."
The preparations saw Scotland play in the Sevens and the City tournament where they fell in the final to England. For Lamont, perhaps one of the most important experiences they were exposed to was their surprise loss to the Wailers. It re-emphasised the lack of hiding places in Sevens and the constant need for precision. It was a key lesson learned ahead of their Pool which includes favourites New Zealand, the ever-improving Canada and the less-fancied Barbados.
"It's a tough group. We kick off against New Zealand who would have played a game before us and by the time we face Canada, they would have played two games compared to our one. It's tough, New Zealand have never been beaten in the Commonwealth Games but we've got a good squad. We saw how close we came in Glasgow in the recent Sevens tournament where we lost to Canada so we know we have a big task.
"Barbados are perhaps underdogs but in Sevens, if you are not on point and get a little slack then you get turned over. We got turned over by the Wailers in the Sevens in the City and if you don't show teams respect then you get punished. You have to be aware. We aren't taking anyone lightly but the squad we've got, we've got a good chance of clearing the Pool but we have to be on point."
Much of the hype surrounding the Scotland team has revolved around the inclusion of British & Irish Lion Stuart Hogg. But he is just one of a handful of fully-fledged Scotland internationals in their squad. "Lee Jones has been going really well in training, he's got a great engine and he's one hell of an athlete," Lamont said. "He's got good pace as has Mark Bennett. To be fair, I could name the whole squad, we've all got great strengths and it's hard to pick out one guy. We have a great team spirit and it's enjoyable."
Scotland's uniform for the Games © PA Photos
As for their captain, Colin Gregor, Lamont has been impressed by his dedication to the cause. "I've known him from back when I was doing Sevens beforehand. I've always got on well with him. He's incredibly fit and I remember one fitness test that was like a bleep test but over 100 metres. I remember doing 11 sprints but he was up at 20 or 21 and still going and we just had to stop the tapes. He's a key part and as our skipper we know he'll continue running and that's what we need."
It was Gregor who led his team around Celtic Park at the Games' opening ceremony on Wednesday evening. It was near-impossible not to miss the Scotland team in their startling luminous national dress but for Lamont, it is all part of a unique experience.
"The theory was, in the past we've worn a plain white shirt and a kilt but we wanted to make a statement and I think it's fair to say that's what we've done. Whether you like it or hate it, but when we all wear it, it will be different and that's the point of it. It's there to provoke emotions. To be honest, to be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit."
So come 1.56pm on Saturday, weeks of preparation will see whether Scotland can live up to Lamont's hopes and aspirations. All four sessions at Ibrox have sold out and with Olympic rugby now two years away, the game's various stakeholders and players will hope the weekend's competition is a success. For Lamont, the goal is simple, to win.
"We need to find that belief that we can do it, but we are going for gold. We will have to work bloody hard for each other and that's the important part."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.