At the Crusaders, they were known as the odd couple. With prop Peter Borlase yesterday announcing a switch to Irish giants Munster, one half of the duo is leaving - but not before he left a legacy that should hold Sean Maitland in good stead.

The talented wing will take to the field for the Maori against the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei today, another step up in what is seen as a likely progression to full national honours.

But Maitland's star was not always shining so brightly at the Christchurch franchise. A Crusaders' staffer said while his talent was always admired, the work ethic took a bit longer to establish itself.

That's where Borlase came in. The flash wing and the grafting prop went flatting together and it was the frontrower who schooled Maitland on the merits of important peripheral details such as diet and nutrition.

The result was an eye-catching season on the wing for the Crusaders, which saw selection to the Maori for the 21-year-old, who is Ngapuhi and Samoan on his mother's side, and half Scottish.

"I'm probably the most plastic one here," Maitland said in reference to his relatively pale complexion, "apart from Robbie Robinson. I do come from a very Maori town, though, Tokoroa".

From there he went to the rugby factory, Hamilton Boys' High, where he played in the first XV with Maori teammate Jackson Willison.

After school he made the choice to strike out, to leave the bosom of his family. "I had an opportunity to be part of the Crusaders' system and took it, I wouldn't say I wanted to leave the Waikato, but I wanted to stand on my own two feet."

A hamstring injury prevented him playing in last year's Super 14, but he came back strongly in the NPC and got his opportunity this year. "I was pretty happy. I got a lot of game time, scored a few tries, which is what wingers are supposed to do. I thought it was a good step up and want to keep pushing that with the Maori."

The powerful wing, who vies with Zac Guildford as the quickest in the Crusaders' squad, was undoubtedly helped by the way the law interpretations shifted the emphasis from non-stop kick and chase.

"It was more fun towards the end of our season when we started playing with the ball and going wide. These new interpretations have been great for the game, there's been more tries scored and the wingers are getting their hands on the ball."

The Maori have never been afraid to give the ball a bit of work through the hands, so Maitland should have plenty of chances to push his claim for higher honours when they meet the Irish in Rotorua next week and England in Napier on June 23.

For now, he's just happy to soak up the unique atmosphere that attaches itself to Maori sides.

"Since the day I got here I've felt nothing but good vibes," he said. "We've had a lot of people come and talk to us about the 100 years of Maori rugby and to be a part of it and to play with some of the great players in the team - it's something I won't forget for the rest of my career.

"There's a lot of guys in this team who've played for the All Blacks. It'll be nice to know that I can play alongside internationals. With these 'tests' coming up it will be a big challenge and a test of my abilities. I want to show what I can do in the next few weeks."

NZ MAORI v NZ BARBARIANS
Whangarei, 4.35pm today

NZ MAORI
Robbie Robinson
Sean Maitland
Jackson Willison
Luke McAlister
Hosea Gear
Stephen Brett
Chris Smylie
Liam Messam (c)
Tanerau Latimer
Jarrad Hoeata
Daniel Ramsay
Isaac Ross
Clint Newland
Corey Flynn
Bronson Murray

Reserves: D Coles, B Afeaki, R Graham, H Triggs, C Bourke, A Smith, D Sweeney.

NZ BARBARIANS
Jared Payne
Bryce Heem
Rene Ranger
Ben Smith
Fetu Vainikolo
Colin Slade
Alby Mathewson
Pater Saili
Alando Soakai (c)
Scott Waldrom
Kevin O'Neill
Josh Bekhuis
Charlie Faumuina
John Afoa
Jamie Mackintosh

Reserves: D Varley, T Court, A Heijden, D Budd, R Caine, L Munro, D Bowden.