IT’S BAD enough that the one “Scot” in the Lions’ 23-man match-day squad hails from Hamilton, NZ rather than the one closer to home but, just to add salt to the Scottish wound, when the Lions sent texts of the team to all the travelling journalists, Sean Maitland was listed as: “Glasgow Warriors and Ireland.” Oh dear.
Happily Maitland is not the sort to take such a thing to heart. Indeed he appeared so delighted with the news of his inclusion that almost nothing was going to spoil the moment. He has come a long way in a very short time, from Canterbury Crusader to British and Irish Lion in 12 short months and he can hardly believe it himself.
“It’s been a crazy 12 months,” says the Kiwi. “As I’ve been saying, it’s been a roller coaster ride for me and it’s pretty crazy where I am, playing the Wallabies and on the pitch for the Lions. It’s an honour and it’s been a whirlwind.
“It (the Lions) never really entered my mind until after the Six Nations. It just happened to be a Lions year when I came over to Scotland.
“It takes me away sometimes when I think about it, I have to pinch myself to realise what I’ve achieved in a short amount of time. I am very lucky and things have gone well for me. I have to pinch myself because this is crazy. Seven months ago I was still a grass-roots player and now I’m playing against my old coach (Robbie Deans).
“There’s been a massive rivalry with Australia growing up so it’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be a really tough game, we know that, and it’s going to be a hell of a spectacle.”
In truth Maitland was perhaps a little fortunate to be included after a below par performance against the Waratahs last weekend but the flip side of the argument is that he could easily have been selected ahead of Alex Cuthbert in the Lions starting XV had the Kiwi quick man done a little better defensively.
The other Scots in the squad were a little less lucky. Warren Gatland recognised the need to pick a scrummaging prop but opted for England’s Alex Corbisiero instead of Ryan Grant, Stuart Hogg would surely have been on the bench if Maitland had not pipped him to the spot and Richie Gray could hardly have done any more than was asked of him.
“There are going to be a lot of disappointed boys,” Maitland concedes. “I think all the Scots boys have had really strong games.
“This is only the first test and there are two more to go.
“We’ve seen in previous tours that guys who haven’t started the first or second test started in the third and played really well. There are 37 players who are all talented enough to start. That’s just the way it is. I’m very lucky I’m on the bench.”
It’s one step closer to the action than his cousin Quade Cooper managed after the talented but temperamental fly-half was overlooked by Deans.
There is a feeling over here that an entire nation is just waiting for the Wallabies to fall flat on their faces so that they can point the finger at their unloved Kiwi coach and chant in unison: “We told you so!”
“We’ve been hanging out a bit since I’ve been in Australia,” says Maitland who has been joined by the rest of his extended family over from New Zealand. “As you can see he’s been doing his talking on the field and that is all you can do.
“Obviously I wish he was out there because he’s family.
“I’m disappointed for him but if there are any injuries then he’ll be the first one they’ll call on.”
It’s a moot point with so much at stake, not least the career of Deans who would have to swallow more pride than he could readily stomach before calling upon Cooper to dig his Wallabies out of a hole should they lose the opener today.
If Maitland is to be believed this Lions squad have gelled so closely together in the last six weeks that anything is possible.
“Training out on the field you can see the way we act together and the way the camaraderie is.
“Off the field we are really quite chilled out, it’s a good environment to be around.
“It’s not too serious so we can relax and enjoy each other’s company but on the pitch it’s train hard and get down to business. This is probably one of the tightest groups, considering the amount of time we’ve had together.”
In fact the one small area of discontent is in the music department because Maitland has made a coup d’etat and ended up holding the baton himself.
“There’s been a bit of banter between me and Matt Stevens, he’s the singer and I’m on the guitar, Alex Corbisiero is the rapper and I also get the old beat box going on the microphone.
“I’ve just taken over the music committee because they haven’t been too sharp.
“I’ve stepped it up a bit in the last few days and the boys are loving my tunes.”
Scotland’s adopted son will need to be pitch perfect should he make his Lions debut today.