Glasgow recently announced the signing of Crusaders winger Sean Maitland on a three-year deal which could see the electric Kiwi donning a Scottish jersey sooner rather than later, writes Tim Cronin.
Maitland’s pedigree cannot be over-stated. A product of Hamilton Boys’ High’s renowned rugby system, he spent two years with the NZ Schoolboys team, and won titles with both the NZ U19 and U20s sides, before relocating to Christchurch to join the champion Crusaders Super Rugby franchise.
The fact that Canterbury, who have the power to attract almost any young player in New Zealand, aggressively sought Maitland speaks volumes about his potential at the top level, and he arrived in the South Island with huge expectations on his shoulders.
Spending time at both wing and fullback, Maitland began his career with the Crusaders in style, playing in every game during their 2008 campaign and netting four tries in one game against the Brumbies.
But the former School-boy sprint champion’s star began to fade in Canterbury, amidst rumours of troubles off the field, and in the face of an increasingly conservative selection policy by Head Coach and former Edinburgh man Todd Blackadder.
That policy saw the red and blacks opt for Adam Whitelock over Maitland for the bulk of the most recent season. While Maitland has an abundance of X-factor it was felt that Whitelock offered consistency and reliability, and the young outside back found himself playing amateur club rugby in Christchurch for much of the 2012 season, before injuries intervened and consigned him to the couch.
But Canterbury’s lack of faith provides a wonderful opportunity for Scottish Rugby. As much as Maitland may be prone to the odd ‘brain explosion’ he possesses genuine pace and undeniable ‘game-breaking’ ability, and his attacking flair, combined with his experience with the Crusaders organisation, could prove to be a very valuable asset for the Warriors and the SRFU.
Maitland is an out-and-out finisher. His kicking game is reasonable, but he is most effective on the wing, on the end of a move, where straight-line speed and a hunger to cross the try-line are essential. He is a winger in the traditional sense – a blatant speed merchant with an eye for nabbing five pointers – and is more than capable of playing at international level, should the opportunity arise in the future.
By Tim Cronin