Maitland settles into Scottish life

FLASHBACK: Sean Maitland in action.
FLASHBACK: Sean Maitland in action.

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

There's more than a sense of irony that after Zac Guildford's continued 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 said from his new home in Glasgow, where he's 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."

Easy in the sense it was a move towards international rugby - an arena Maitland craved, but at 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, where he scored his first try in the Heineken Cup, 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 shift in allegiance. 

"I'm very lucky to have my dad being Scottish and my grandparents being born in Scotland, it gave me another opportunity with rugby," he said. "Not many guys have that.

"I'm not going to lie, a young boy growing up I wanted to play for the All Blacks, but I put that aside and set myself new goals over here. It seems to be going pretty good at the moment."

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 forgot some of the words so I better start practicing."

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 said. 

"It will be a tough team to make but it's a goal for me. Everyone is thinking about it."

Living in Glasgow, venue for next year's Commonwealth Games, has benefits beyond the rugby fields. 

As with many parts of Europe, rugby players are second-class citizens. Bitter cross-city rival football clubs, Celtic and Rangers, attract 60,000 supporters. Meanwhile, Gregor Townsend-coached Glasgow plays in-front of a mere 6000 fan-base.

That's not a bad thing. Maitland enjoys the break from the New Zealand fishbowl, walking the streets without being recognised and eyeing a holiday in the Canary Islands is pure bliss for a young man with the world at his feet.

"One door closes and another one opens," he said, content. "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."

This time of year there's only one downside - winter.

"The biggest adjustment is getting up 20 minutes early in the freezing cold and having to scrape off a centimetre of ice from all the windows of your car. That's a bit of a pain."

Otherwise, life couldn't be better.

It seems the Crusaders' loss is Scotland's and, possibly, Lions' gain.