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New Zealand-born Sean Maitland quick to pick up phone after hearing of maiden inclusion in Scotland team

Had he ever set eyes on the towered and turreted baronial pile that is Thirlestane Castle in Berwickshire, Sean Maitland would probably be tempted to take a little more interest in his clan history, if only on the off-chance that he might be in line to inherit a minor title, and a comfortable apartment in the sprawling edifice that is the historic home of the Earls of Lauderdale.

Sean Maitland takes in the Murrayfield view yesterday. Picture: SNS
Sean Maitland takes in the Murrayfield view yesterday. Picture: SNS

As it is, the 24-year-old winger's interest in matters architectural and genealogical could probably be measured by the expression of puzzlement he wore when the family seat was mentioned. That, and his response to a more general question on his Scottish ancestry and heritage: "Eh, I know my tartan's green," he offered.

A bit like he is in terms of the international game, in fact. The New Zealand-born Maitland might have spent the past few seasons scoring tries by the barrel-load for a Crusaders side that also included such luminaries as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, but the cauldron of Test rugby will be an altogether new experience when he takes his place in the Scotland side that lines up against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Cue the usual sneers from our friends in the south about carpet-baggers, kilted Kiwis and flags of convenience? Probably. But you wouldn't want to accuse Maitland of opportunism within earshot of Scott Johnson, who reckons the player is not just the real deal, but a very Scottish deal as well.

"We said we'd pick a team based on form and future and I certainly see him as being a big part of the future for Scotland," said the interim head coach. "He's got a skill-set that I can't coach. I'll claim it when it works, but the reality is he can do things we can't.

"It's an opportunity for Sean. He comes from a good pedigree from the south and is a valuable acquisition for Scotland. It won't be perfect, but no game is. The reality is that he's a good part of our future moving forward.

"Look at New Zealand, the best rugby nation in the world, and all the Tongans, Samoans and other island boys who have played for them. And let's have a look at the team we're playing at the weekend, with the largest population base of rugby players in the world, and they have a substantial number of non-English boys in that squad.

"That is the reality of the sport. It's not a reflection on Scotland, but the reality of professional sport. Sean's family are very, very proud of their Scottish history and he [has chosen to play for Scotland] because he's a young man who wants to ply his trade and understands the history. He's Scottish."

That attribute did not go unnoticed by Gregor Townsend, who was singing the praises of Maitland long before taking over as Glasgow head coach last summer. Townsend's enthusiasm for the player accelerated his arrival in Scotland last November, although the solitary try he has scored for the Warriors does not exactly give substance to the hype. To his credit, Maitland admits he has not hit top form yet. "I've had a few ups and downs," he conceded. "But I've still got a lot more to give."

Maitland has at least had time to bed into his new home in Glasgow, and is now comfortably settled in a flat in the city from which his grandparents emigrated around half a century ago. Yet for all that it had been widely predicted, the speed of his conscription into the Scotland squad has made it a whirldwind experience. "Oh mate, it's pretty surreal," Maitland beamed. "It feels like I just arrived in Scotland yesterday, but I'm very honoured to get selected and to be starting. Hopefully I can do the jersey justice.

"Twickenham. Eighty thousand people. It's going to be one hell of an occasion. We haven't won there for 30 years and that's all the motivation you need. I definitely feel we can do something.

"We have fresh faces, a new coach. The vibe is really positive. As a new player coming in, I felt it straight away. There's a lot of confidence floating around the team. Yeah, I think we're going to shock a few teams."

When he was told he had been selected, Maitland picked up the phone and called his father. "It's going to be a very special moment to go out there and pull on the jersey," he said. "Dad's a man of little emotion but when I talked to him he was very proud and welled up."

For all that it will be his Test debut, it will not be Maitland's first visit to Twickenham. He played there for the Crusaders in a Super Rugby match against the Sharks A couple of years ago, contributing two tries to the Canterbury-based side's 44-28 win.

"I know what it's going to be like," Maitland said. "For me it's about having the confidence of knowing that you've done everything in the week. That's how I approach every game."

So no fear? Not that you'd notice. "I can't wait to get out there all guns blazing," he grinned. "I love big crowds and big stadiums. It's going to be awesome."

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