NEW Zealand might have shown Scotland up as being some distance behind them at Test level this month but new Glasgow winger Sean Maitland insisted that, when he knew a black jersey was not coming his way, there was only one place he wanted to be.
“I grew up with my grandfather Stan, a welder from Glasgow, talking about Scotland and him drinking his whisky,” he said, in his first interview since arriving in Scotland. “The family all have a strong Scottish connection so I have been thinking about coming here for a while.
“I won’t pretend I didn’t want to be an All Black. Like all kids growing up in New Zealand, that’s what you want to be, but those roots have been a big thing for me. I have been given the opportunity to play for Glasgow, in the city that my grandparents left in the 1970s and, if I can do that well, it might repay them a bit and maybe provide a chance to play international rugby for a country that would mean a lot to me and my family.
“But that’s some way off. Right now I’m just enjoying getting to know the guys at Glasgow, and there is a really good vibe here so I’m looking forward to settling in. The first thing is to adapt to the different kind of rugby that’s played here to the southern hemisphere and train hard so that I can start to push for a place in the team.
“I already know about the strengths of the back three at Glasgow and I know it’s not going to be easy but, to play at a high level anywhere, you have to be up for a challenge and I am.
“That’s what I came here for and I’m looking forward to working with the players and coaches at Glasgow to become a better player and perform for the club.”
The 24-year-old arrived in Glasgow last week and had his first training session with the Warriors squad on Monday. He is tipped by many who have watched him in Super Rugby as being likely to go straight into the Scotland squad next year.
His pace is such that he clocked 10.8 seconds for 100 metres a few years ago and it has been a key weapon for the Crusaders in recent seasons.
Maitland won world titles with New Zealand under-19s and under-20s and has scored 24 tries for the Crusaders since making his debut in 2008 – including four in one match to equal the tournament record.
He was courted by other Super Rugby sides before agreeing a deal with Glasgow until May 2015. As far as the international game is concerned, it may be that he would already have been capped by any nation other than New Zealand, who boast impressive resources on the wings and at full-back.
Maitland’s ability to counter-attack and beat men, along with good handling and running skills, mean Warriors coach Gregor Townsend believes that, at just 24, he could potentially be Scottish rugby’s best-ever signing.
Although the coach is delighted to have extra resources while the strength of his squad is stretched due to the Autumn Tests, Maitland will still be made to earn a place in the side the same as any other player.
He said: “It’s great to welcome Sean to Scotstoun and have him on board as we enter a crucial stage of the season.
“We’ve got some big games coming up, starting this Friday at Munster, and this is a great boost for the club.
“We know the quality Sean brings, his scoring record in Super Rugby speaks for itself, but he knows he has to earn his place in the team as we have a lot of quality in the back division here.
“I’ll be looking for him to work hard in training and earn the chance to show the supporters what he’s all about.”
Glasgow play Munster in Limerick in the RaboDirect PRO12 on Saturday, but the more likely debut for Maitland is the next home game at Scotstoun, against French side Castres, where Glasgow will be seeking their first win in the Heineken Cup this season.
Maitland was spoken to by a few Scottish coaches over the past two years and the deal was clinched when the original “Kilted Kiwi” Sean Lineen travelled to the South Island of New Zealand to meet Maitland and his parents.
Maitland added: “I was told by Sean [Lineen] that there was a lot of potential here and that I’d enjoy the set-up at Glasgow and the quality in the squad.
“There maybe is a bit of disappointment in Scottish rugby after the weekend but I have really enjoyed my first couple of days with the squad and agree with Sean that there is a lot of potential here.
“After five years at the Crusaders I was at a crossroads in my career where I had to think about what I wanted to do now. I could have stayed there or gone to another Super Rugby team but, as soon as I started thinking that the All Blacks was not going to happen for me, Scotland was the place I started thinking about.
“It’s great now to be here and I just can’t wait to start playing with Glasgow and earning my place and, hopefully, helping Gregor and the guys here achieve success.”