Sean Lamont has one eye on 2019 ahead of Japan friendlies
Scotland veteran Sean Lamont has warned the Dark Blues to take their double-header with Japan seriously or face being haunted by the clashes when they return to the Far East for the 2019 World Cup.
Vern Cotter's men are ranked ninth in the world - just one place above the Brave Blossoms, ahead of the two clashes against them this month.
But Lamont is concerned his side could end up in the kind of 'group of death' which killed off England's chances at last year's tournament if they slip-up during their summer tour.
The draw for Japan 2019 takes place next May - two-and-a-half years before the competition kicks-off - and the rankings will be used by World Rugby when the governing body calculates the seeding for the finals.
Now La mont has confessed defeat against the Japanese later this month will leave the Scots' World Cup hopes hanging by a thread with so little time to fight their way back into the list of elite nations.
The 35-year-old Glasgow wing said : "These are big games - they are not throw-aways. Japan are ranked 10 in the world, we are nine so it will be two close matches.
"We want to continue with what we have been building on over the last year but it's more about the ranking.
"The ranking will take care of itself if we win the games like we are supposed to.
"I remember before the draw for the last World Cup, the loss to Tonga cost us [the chance to be second seeds]. We got lucky because we were third seeds behind South Africa and Samoa.
"If we drop down to being third seeds again we could end up being in the kind of group that England and Wales got with Australia, which would be a lot harder to escape next time round.
"So these games do count, even if they are just friendlies."
Lamont was left out of the initial 27-man squad heading to Toyota City and then Tokyo for the Tests, which are being staged on June 18 and 25, after Cotter opted to give Edinburgh youngster Damian Hoyland his chance.
The former Rotherham, Northampton and Scarlets back has always insisted he will never turn his back on his country but knows the day will eventually come where he is no longer required.
However, he has already been reassured by Cotter that he remains part of his plans, with an injury to Harlequins' Tim Visser securing his reprieve this time.
And Lamont insists he is happy to act as a mentor to his younger colleagues as Scotland look to the future.
"When I was left out I was absolutely gutted," he admitted. "I totally understood why but it's never nice to get that phone call saying you're being left behind.
"However, getting the next call to say I was back in was very nice.
"Playing for Scotland has been a big part of my life and I sure as damned don't want it to go away - b ut I know eventually it will.
"I never feared it was over this time because Vern told me I was still in his thinking but it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster between the two phone calls.
"Listen, I know where I am in my career. Damo has had a good run for Edinburgh and deserves his call-up. I'm all for pushing the next generation through. It's good for Scottish rugby and it's what we need."
With 104 caps to his name, he needs just five more to equal Chris Paterson's Scottish record.
But Lamont is refusing to get too excited while his place in the squad remains uncertain, saying: "I'd love to to keep going for the record. If it happens I'll be glad but likewise if it doesn't, I've still had a 'no bad' innings.
"We'll see, we don't know what the future holds. I'll be trying my damnedest though."