Sean Maitland admits it wasn’t exactly the hardest decision he’ll ever have to make when he was offered the chance to sign for Europe’s best club Saracens.
The former Glasgow wing/full-back has gone from the low of suffering relegation with London Irish last season to the high of penning a two-year deal, which was announced yesterday, with the Champions Cup and Aviva Premiership double winners.
“It was a pretty easy decision to join the champions,” said the 27-year-old, who is in camp at BT Murrayfield preparing for the upcoming tour to Japan. “When Saracens came knocking it was an easy decision to sign.
“The results they have achieved this season speak for themselves but what really appealed was the burning desire from the coaches to continuously improve and evolve. I think the [3G] surface at Allianz Park will suit my game and I look forward to meeting up with my new team-mates in the summer.
“We have a Scottish contingent there with Duncs [Taylor], Kelly [Brown] and Jim [Hamilton]. Everybody I talk to says great things about the club.
“Obviously when you’re playing rugby and not getting the results you want [with London Irish], your confidence does take a hit – especially in a relegation battle where you’re trying to grind out games. When you’re losing, you might be playing good footy but you’re losing, and that has an effect on you mentally.
“That was the first experience I’ve had. I’ve come from teams who have won trophies. It was a new experience for me. I’m just grateful that Saracens were interested. Everything’s about timing and what position you play, so I was very lucky.”
As well as the Scottish contingent at Allianz Park, Maitland will also be re-united with the likes of Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Mako Vunipola, with whom he toured Australia with the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
The move keeps Maitland in the London area but he added: “I will probably have to move though and the wife is on Zoopla as we speak. It is a bit of a commute up to [Saracens’ training centre in] St Albans as I live near Twickenham at the moment.”
Saracens also announced the signing of South Africa prop Vincent Koch yesterday and director of rugby Mark McCall said: “Having already announced a number of signings earlier this year, we are pleased to have finally secured each of our targets.
“Sean is a highly experienced and proven international three quarter, and we believe that he will flourish here.”
Maitland, who has 21 caps, admitted fears that playing in the second-tier Championship might harm his Scotland prospects was a motivating factor in seeking a move away from London Irish.
“Yeah. That was a worry,” he said. “I had that to consider as well. I am 27. I still think I have many years to give.
“It is a shame how things turned out. Playing in the Championship would not have helped me with Scotland so that was a key decision [for the move] as well.”
Maitland was selected at wing by Scotland head coach Vern Cotter for this year’s Six Nations but after his late withdrawal ahead of the second game against Wales played no further part in the competition.
He said: “I had my hamstring problems. I got over that hump then around the Italy game, Vern and I had a chat and he said a few things I needed to work on. That was it.”
The New Zealand-born player is now looking for a chance to re-establish himself in the dark blue as he flies out on Saturday with the squad for the two-Test series in Japan.
“I’m really excited for the next couple of weeks,” he said. “The Six Nations was probably the first time I wasn’t selected for the Scotland jersey, so it gave me a kick up the bum.
“I want to kick back in that jersey, and I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to put the jersey on in these two Tests.
“It’s my first time [in Japan]. But I’ve got a few mates playing rugby over there, so I’ve been on the phone, and I’m looking forward to trying the food and getting amongst the culture.”
He said it was particularly frustrating to be on the outside for the fine wins over Italy and France which ended Scotland’s long losing run in the tournament, but he reflected: “It’s about opportunities. The boys played some awesome rugby and it was great to see.”
Maitland was part of the Scotland team that defeated Japan fairly comfortably in the Rugby World Cup pool stage but accepts that the fact that game came just four days after the Brave Blossoms’ seismic win over the Springboks played a factor and is expecting them to present a formidable challenge on home turf.
“They’re going to be really tough, especially with most of their guys playing in Super Rugby,” he said. “Michael Leitch plays for the Chiefs – he’s their talisman. There is the Bath boy [Amanaki Mafi]. And the rest of them play for the Sunwolves [in Super Rugby]. I know they’ve been playing all the way through from the World Cup, so they’ll be like us, the end of a long season. But it’s only two Tests.
“It’s going to be difficult. No complacency at all. I think there’s going to be a lot of attacking rugby if the weather is nice.”