Maitland chases place in Lions tour squad

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2013

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Like a backhanded compliment, being ejected from the Crusaders provided the catalyst for Sean Maitland's unlikely career move.

There's more than a touch of irony that after Zac Guildford's troubles the Crusaders are scratching around for quality outside backs.

Last year, the red-and-blacks delisted Maitland, pushing him out the door and on the road to retrace his Scottish lineage, through his grandparents.

"I had one year on my contract and I was surprised that [Crusaders coach] Todd [Blackadder] delisted me," Maitland told the Sunday Star-Times from his new home in Glasgow, where he is committed for the next three years.

"That's just the way it goes. That's footy. I had a mixed 2012 with a few injuries and form. In the back of my mind I was always thinking about heading overseas. It just made my decision quite easy."

At just 24, it was a defining decision, nonetheless.

Growing up in Tokoroa and attending Hamilton Boys' High School, the former New Zealand Maori and age-group flyer - this bloke has serious pace - had one dream; to be an All Black. Singing Flower of Scotland at Murrayfield didn't feature in future plans.

"I would never have thought that as a young boy. I had always supported Waikato my whole life," he reflected.

A conversation with Sean Lineen, the Auckland-born centre who played 29 tests and won a Grand Slam with Scotland, sealed his switch in allegiance.

Four months after leaving Christchurch, the kilted Kiwi is poised to debut at Twickenham on February 2, and attempt to help Scotland claim their first win at the venue for 30 years. Before then, though, he'll need to master his adopted anthem.

"That's something I've still got to learn," he admitted, sheepishly.

"I used to sing it at high school but I've forgotten some of the words so I better start practising."

Five games for Glasgow were enough to confirm his place in Scott Johnson's Six Nations squad. And this week, he got a taste of a potentially prestigious prospect.

Selection in Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad this year sets the backdrop to the tournament. Maitland could yet force his way into the mix to tour Australia, provided he gets enough quality ball on the right wing.

Filling out the paperwork and being fitted for Lions gear heightened his drive to impress Gatland.

"Trying on all the Lions gear was pretty cool. It got you thinking you've got another opportunity, not only with Scotland, but if you play well you could be in the mix for the Lions," he pondered. "It will be a tough team to make but it's a goal for me."

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Living in Glasgow has benefits beyond the rugby fields. Maitland is enjoying a break from the New Zealand fishbowl. Walking the streets without being recognised is pure bliss.

"One door closes and another one opens," he said, contentedly. "It just shows you can't take this game for granted. I've got some good years ahead of me and I'm excited for what the future holds."

- Sunday Star Times

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