Rugby: Kiwi's pride at being a Lion

By Steve Landells

Scotland winger Sean Maitland. Photo / Getty Images
Scotland winger Sean Maitland. Photo / Getty Images

Former Crusaders winger Sean Maitland, another New Zealand export, wants to achieve two things on the Lions tour of Australia - make the test team and play against his cousin, the controversial Quade Cooper.

While Kiwi-born Maitland is confident he can muscle his way into the British Lions test team for the forthcoming three-match rumble against Australia (and believes a first series win in 16 years is within their grasp), the scenario with cousin Cooper is not quite so clear.

The former schoolboy sprint champion is also still hopeful of confronting Cooper, his relative and good pal from their time growing up as kids in Tokoroa. The mercurial No10, who later moved to Australia as a teenager, was not selected in the preliminary 25-man Wallabies squad but, with six more players to be selected on June 10, Maitland still relishes the thought of clashing with Cooper in the tests.

"We did everything together until he moved out to Australia," says Maitland, who could also meet his relative when the Lions play the Queensland Reds on June 8.

"He's texted me his congratulations. He beat me at a long distance race as kids and he has had the wood over me, although he's a bit of a sook if I beat him at anything."

Maitland was coached for a year at the Crusaders by current Australia coach Robbie Deans and he attended the same school, Hamilton Boys' High, as Warren Gatland, the former All Black hooker and current coach of Wales - and the man hoping to steer the Lions to their first series win since South Africa in 1997.

"I had one year with Robbie. He was a total legend and whatever he said, I went and did. I'm not sure I could pass on too much. It is crazy to think he is now coach [of Australia]," says Maitland.

He has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the world of international rugby, arriving from New Zealand in October to start a new career with the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland, the land of his grandparents. Quickly elevated to the Scotland team, the 24-year-old scored a try on his international debut in the Calcutta Cup match against England at Twickenham in February.

He earned a call-up to Gatland's 37-man Lions squad which opens its tour in Hong Kong against the Barbarians on Saturday before heading to Australia.

"I thought I had a 50-50 chance of making the squad," says Maitland, who helped steer Glasgow Warriors to third in the RaboDirect PRO12 before they suffered a narrow semi-final defeat to Irish province Leinster earlier this month.

"I'm honoured to make it," he says. "I know the hard work begins now. I think you've got to be confident [of making the test team]. We have a few games before the first test [in Brisbane on June 22] and I hope to be picked on form. All the wingers are class players [Welsh duo George North and Alex Cuthbert, and Ireland's Tommy Bowe] but I hope to make it."

Born in Tokoroa, Maitland says the importance of his 'Scottishness' was emphasised by his Glasgow-born grandparents, Stan and June, from a young age. June, now in her 70s, still texts him after every game and is fiercely proud of her grandson being called up to the Lions.

The former Crusaders winger, though, is determined to stamp his mark on the class of 2013 and make the most of his experience in the Lions' den.

"The big thing about a Lions tour is it lasts eight weeks and no-one really knows each other but, by the end, you make some great friends. It will be great to play alongside boys like Tommy Bowe and Brian O'Driscoll - he is a total legend."

- Herald on Sunday

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