Across the Atlantic last Saturday, an identity crisis in a newspaper produced a reference to the US Eagles’ defeat by the All Blacks, saying: “Sell-out crowd watches legendary Aussie team dominate Americans”.
Seems the Kiwis are not yet as universally known as many would expect, although if any Scotland player is guaranteed to know exactly who the All Blacks are and what they are about it is winger Sean Maitland. Apart from being part-Maori, Maitland represented New Zealand at under-19 and under-20 level before deciding his future lay in the land of his Caledonian grandparents.
Nevertheless, there is still a bit of familiarisation to be done, with British and Irish Lion Maitland making a stark acknowledgement in the build-up to Scotland’s three Test Autumn series featuring Argentina and Tonga as well as New Zealand. “You know, I have never actually seen the All Blacks play live,” he said, in response to a question about growing up in a rugby-mad country.
“I haven’t played against them and any time I was in New Zealand when they were playing I seemed to be in a different part of the country.
“I used to do the haka at school, though, and with the under-20s. So, if I am picked to face them during the Autumn Tests then it will be special.
“It’s been in the back of my mind, I can’t lie about that. I’ll just need to wait for the next couple of weeks – I’m sure they’ll go by just like that – it’s really exciting.
“I’ve got a few close mates in the team so hopefully they get the opportunity and I get the opportunity as well.
“The All Blacks are the Everest of the game. They do the basics the best of any team. It’s the way they catch and pass. You see all their tries: it is done with (fast) hands, drawing the man then doing the basics the best.
“They have this confidence about them and even when 14 points down with ten minutes to go they can come back and win. They beat Ireland that way and Australia more recently.
“We’ll think about them after Saturday because first up are Argentina and that has got to be the focus.”
That is understandable as the Pumas have arrived in Edinburgh on the back of a breakthrough win in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship when they defeated Australia in Mendoza.
“It was always going to be sooner rather than later that Argentina would get a win,” said Maitland. “And we know from going over there (this summer) how tough they are. It was really good for us getting a win there.
“By beating Australia after we left they are going to be coming into this game full of confidence with a big forward pack and lots of skill in the backs.
“For starters they have a big winger in Manuel Montero (6ft 4in and 16st) and Horacio Agulla looked pretty good in the Bath back division when I played against them for Glasgow in the European Champions Cup.”
It isn’t only in the USA there has been a bit of a rugby identity crisis either, with new Scotland coach Vern Cotter calling a player meeting to discuss just how Scotland want to play, starting against the Pumas. Mailtand revealed: “It was felt we had lost our identity, whether we wanted to play tight or wide. Vern has asked us what sort of style do we want to play and put the onus on us. I guess we want to be ruthless on the field. Vern has been stressing we need to play what we see and not to be afraid to have a go.
“The main thing is to have fun. Doing the work, having fun off the field – and having fun when you are playing. The games we have in training are fun. We do drills, tweaking here and there.”
Already a fan of BT Murrayfield, the new pitch is giving Maitland added confidence.
“It’s a magnificent field and the stadium looks incredible. It’s there to express yourself.”
And what is Maitland’s reaction to the re-laid hybrid playing surface which is firm and compact compared to last season when players were treading in mud for 80 minutes?
“It’s happy birthday time with that firm pitch, which is definitely a lot better.
“You just feel confident running around and you can expect to get the ball more and attack more.”
That would certainly be welcome because in their last four Murrayfield meetings with Argentina, not only have Scotland lost the lot. but their tally of six tries compares with the nine scored when the countries met in 1990 and the hosts ran out 49-3 winners.