Sean Maitland is keen to remain part of the Scotland squad during his year in the Greene King IPA Championship with Saracens next season.
The winger is back in training ahead of the restart of the Gallagher Premiership, Saracens last week having confirmed he’s signed a two-year contract to remain at Allianz Park, despite the defending European champions‘ impending relegation for breaching salary cap regulations.
Despite everything that’s gone on off the field at the club over the past 12 months, Maitland said the decision to stay wasn’t one he had to think much about.
“It was an easy decision to be honest,” he said.
“My family was keen on me staying and we’re pretty settled in St. Albans, and at the club, so I’m really happy to be staying for another couple of years.”
Rumours circulated for months after Saracens’ demotion was announced that Maitland could return to Glasgow Warriors, the club from where he broke into the Scotland squad in 2012 during a three-year stint at Scotstoun.
“There was some interest, and some rumours, but my main priority was to stay here – I’m very happy.”
The 31-year-old admitted to having “low-key conversations” with new Glasgow Head Coach Danny Wilson about the prospect of a return north, but added that it never got off the ground, with the former Crusaders man keen to help Sarries back to the top flight.
“Danny is a top bloke and we had a really good relationship during his time with Scotland,” Maitland explained.
”I told him I was keen to stay here.”
Saracens have announced that Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers will all be sticking around for their 2020/21 season, and while Maitland is looking forward to a new experience, he knows they’ll have a bullseye next to their name on every other team’s fixture card.
“Every game, teams are going to target us.
“It’s going to be quite cool going to places we never thought we’d play.
“The nucleus of the squad is sticking around, which is important, and there would be nothing better than coming back to the Premiership and trying to win it, that would be pretty cool.
“It’s about looking at the positives and trying to create some special memories.”
As for his international career, Maitland believes if he can maintain his form, there’s no reason why he can’t add to the 48 caps he’s already won for Scotland, despite the increased competition with the national side.
He now has to compete with Edinburgh duo Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn; Sale’s Byron McGuigan, and newly-qualified South African-born Duhan van der Merwe for a spot in Gregor Townsend’s team.
Townsend said recently that he is not worried about Maitland dropping down to play in the second tier of English club rugby.
Maitland explained more: “I had a chat with Gregor to find out if playing in the Championship was going to affect my chances of playing for Scotland, and he said ‘look, you’ve been in the squad a long time now, but it will all be on form’.
“We’ve got some big games coming up [at Saracens] so I’ll still be getting high quality games at the end of this season, then it’s looking like there’s going to be internationals on after that, so I might be away a fair bit [of the Championship season].
“If I can keep playing to a high standard, then I still want to play for Scotland.
“I was happy with my form towards the end of the Six Nations – the competition for places is good but this massive rest has been pretty good for the body, so I feel good.”
It’s been a difficult 12 months for the Tokoroa-born back-three man, with Saracens’ relegation news coming off the back of a disappointing Rugby World Cup campaign with Scotland.
Maitland admitted that despite a generally positive outlook, he has had bad days, but now he’s keen to finish this season on a high, both domestically and in Europe, where Saracens face Leinster in a Heineken Champions Cup last eight encounter that pits two giants of the European game together in a repeat of last season’s final.
“It’s been a rollercoaster 12 months,” continued the former Crusaders and London Irish man.
“You’re going to be negative sometimes, but it’s just down to the players and the leadership group has been outstanding in the way we’ve stepped up and found the motivation in every game without really having anything to play for.
“Europe has been important for us, and I’ve been away with Scotland, which has taken my mind off things as well, but in a couple of years, I’m sure we’ll look back on this time as another revolution of the club.”
For the revolution to be a success, Maitland will hope his side can cling on to their European title before the Saracens galacticos part ways.
Then will start the task of negotiating their way back to the top table of English, and European, rugby.
It won’t be straightforward, but Maitland is sticking around in St. Albans to play his part.
“Main photo credit”