The news that Sean Maitland has made the Scottish squad comes as no surprise to any one who has watched Maitland's play for The Crusaders and Canterbury and, most importantly, watched the way Scotland plays. Maitland was one of those frustrating players who had pace, size, swerve but like those kids who matured early gave the impression that he had decided natural ability was enough to succeed. Maitland could hit a gap, run as fast as anyone, fill in more than adequately at full-back but, like Robbie Fruean, often tried to do too much by himself and wasn't an instinctive team player. If you watched him during a game he often went missing-just like Fruean. Yet there is more to his game than Fruean's, for Maitland's utility value is his greatest asset. The problem is that he never seemed sure of where he was playing or who he was playing with. Having Fruean as the centre to run off never suited his style, nor were Fruean or Crotty there very often in support when he did make breaks. He had all the makings of a top-level player when younger but got increasingly sidelined by the Dagg-Guildford combination that operates on a subliminal level.
The trouble seems to be that Maitland's development as a player never really kicked on at the Crusaders. I would have liked to see him play at centre where his size, pace and ability to kick would have been an asset. As a centre he would have been forced to link with his surrounding players and he would have been able to use his under-rated tackling ability. Personally I would rather have seen Fruean go than Maitland for Fruean has a much more limited game, and due to his health issues, needs to go missing for recuperative periods during games. Yet Fruean is the type of player who gets the casual fan's endorsement because of the sporadic bullish runs that are more league than rugby.
In Scotland Maitland will be playing a different type of game and he offers the option of another large, fast finisher. Importantly, the slower pace of Scottish rugby will give him the chance to learn a different style of support play and to regain his confidence. There are already speculations that Maitland will make the Lions tour and these shouldn't be discounted as he is a proven success against southern hemisphere players.
The on-going Guildford saga means Maitland is going to be missed more than perhaps one would have expected. McNichol looked exciting at ITM but needs to be introduced slowly to the different world of Super Rugby. He needs more than pace and the quality of oppositions that can shut down the Fruean-Crotty inside combination may yet hinder him more than is curently realised. The other alternative of Whitelock is a solid journeyman but would be unlikely to be picked up by any other franchise as anything more than a cover.
My guess is that Maitland will surprise as will his development in Scotland and he may yet make the Lion's tour. In the world of professional sport one can't blame him for looking north but as Mike Harris has shown sometimes all a player needs is a shift to another Super Franchise for their potential to be realised. Player development by the NZRFU needs to consider relocating players within NZ franchises first before we lose them overseas. Scotland must be delighted.