Six Nations: Sean Maitland has Twickenham feelgood factor
THE fact that Scotland have not won at Twickenham for 30 years looks set to be the most quoted statistic in the build-up to Saturday’s opening match of the RBS Six Nations Championships. But it will not be one that Sean Maitland dwells on for any length of time.
As far as the Glasgow Warriors player is concerned, the home of English rugby holds only happy memories. Maitland played there and won a little under two years ago and it hardly matters that England were not involved.
The game in question was a Super 15 showcase between the Crusaders and the Sharks and Maitland, who will make his Scotland debut this weekend, scored the decisive try as New Zealand’s Crusaders beat their South African opponents. So he will not be overawed by the stadium or regard it as a venue which only brings sorrow to Scots hearts.
The Tokoroa-born 24-year-old, who qualifies for Scotland thanks to two Glaswegian grandparents, has an upbeat attitude in any case. He knows his experience of Twickenham will help but he also expects to get at least as much of a morale-boost from training with his new team-mates this week.
“It’s good that I’ve played at Twickenham and know what it’s going to be like,” the right-winger said yesterday after being named in interim coach Scott Johnson’s first Scotland team. “And I’ll get confidence from this week – from going into the game knowing that you’ve done everything you can. There’s fresh faces and a new coach.
“The vibe is really positive. As a new player coming in there’s a lot of confidence.”
Maitland joined the Warriors last year after six years in senior rugby in New Zealand, first with Canterbury and then with the Crusaders, as well as representing the New Zealand Maori, his heritage from his mother’s side of the family. He has only played a handful of games so far for his new team but his connection with Scottish rugby goes back far longer than that, as he recalled yesterday.
“I used to watch the games with my dad and my hero was Gregor Townsend, so I suppose it was destiny,” he said on being asked how it felt to be chosen for the team.
“I’m very lucky that my grandparents were born in Scotland. That’s opened a lot of doors for me.
“It feels like I only arrived in Scotland yesterday. I’m very honoured to get selected and, hopefully, I can do the jersey justice.
“Things have happened so quickly. I’ve played five games for Glasgow and I’m very lucky to be in this position now.
“It honestly hasn’t hit me yet. It won’t until I pull on the jersey and walk out there.
“Everyone back home is so proud. My dad is a man of little emotion but, when I gave him the news on the phone, he let it all out.”
And when it comes to the pre-match ritual of singing the anthems, Maitland will be able to let it all out himself, thanks to another man called Townsend – his music teacher back at Hamilton Boys’ High School, whose lessons included renditions of Flower of Scotland.
“I know the words to the anthem, so you don’t need to worry about that. I sang it at high school. We had a Scottish singing teacher called Mr Townsend so we used to sing it at school.”
In common with almost everyone else in his native country. Maitland was given a startling experience of just how good the current England team can be in the last weekend of the Autumn Tests. As Scotland were losing at home to Tonga, Stuart Lancaster’s team were beating the All Blacks in some style.
“They were on fire, so they’re going to be a confident team,” he acknowledged. “It’s going to be a tough game.
“It’s a tough start. It’s a huge challenge. But it’s a new team, new coaches and the vibe is very positive.
“It’s going to be huge. There will be 80,000 people there. We want to shock a few teams.”
There is something quietly reassuring about the relish with which Maitland employs terms such as “tough start” and “huge challenge”. You get the distinct impression that the tougher the challenge, the more he looks forward to it.
Certainly, when it comes to Scotland’s undesirable record of just one draw and a whole heap of defeats since 1983, Maitland does not feel the burden of history at all. Instead, he appears to regard it as one more reason to want to go out there and claim a precious victory. A little extra incentive, just in case any were required.
“What an occasion,” is how he summed it up. “We haven’t won there in 30 years. That’s all the motivation we need.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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