Six Nations: Sean Maitland up for France clash

Winger Sean Maitland, photographed at Murrayfield, says he will 'go looking for the ball' in the Stade de France tomorrow. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Winger Sean Maitland, photographed at Murrayfield, says he will 'go looking for the ball' in the Stade de France tomorrow. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Scotland are poised to feel the full force of French rugby history tomorrow when the teams clash in Paris but, as winger Sean Maitland confirmed today, a glorious incentive exists for the visitors.

It was seven matches ago that Les Tricolores last tasted victory in the RBS Six Nations Championship and such a 
dismal run for them previously occurred away back in 1927.

A backlash to avoid what would also be a first wooden spoon this century is on the cards but Maitland has been forthright in admitting that winning places on the forthcoming Lions tour is something that spurs him, and others, on.

Even going as far as to put a final “trial” label on the encounter so far as selection hopes are concerned, Maitland, born in New Zealand of Scottish ancestry, acknowledged the obvious, saying: “I know (for) a couple of guys it (the Lions) is definitely a goal. This is definitely another trial match. It is a goal of mine; saying that, there are a lot of quality wingers out there.

“Whether I have done enough to prove myself . . .  all the boys are thinking about it.”

Asked if the prospect of representing the combined side was an added reason to pack his bags and switch continents Maitland, the ex-Canterbury Crusaders, star said: “I thought (only) about playing for Scotland. Maybe it is a bit of a luck that I came over here and the Lions tour was on.”

For the fourth time in five Championship outings Scotland have left their back-line intact but any vote of confidence is coupled with a determination to make more of opportunities after the six tries that flowed in the opening two games and then dried up.

“Over here, compared with Super 15 rugby, you’ve got to go looking for the ball which is what I’ve learned,” said Maitland. “People have been saying it has not been a Six Nations for a winger and you’ve got to have good work rate. One thing I have tried to get better at is coming off my wing, looking for the ball and not getting too frustrated out there.

“When I looked at footage after the Welsh game there were a lot of opportunities, especially in counter attack. I thought I had a chance to do a lot more but maybe didn’t take the right options. We have a bit of quality in our team and have maybe just been lacking that last five per cent when we get down to the other team’s try line. We are maybe not ‘synching’ too well with the forwards as backs. Once we get that right we can definitely put teams away.”

The need for more counter-attacking is stressed by Maitland’s fellow winger Tim Visser who also expects a “hostile” atmosphere in the Stade de France.

“We could definitely have done better off kick return against Wales,” said Visser, adding: “They kicked a lot of balls to us and that was not something we had in our minds at the time. We were hoping to be dangerous off set-piece and I think as a back five (unit) 
we could have done more to counter attack.”

The message is that if France’s backs throw down a gauntlet then the Scots will be ready and the longer the visitors, guaranteed their best finish since 2006, stay in the game then the more the home support could get restless.

To begin with though Visser feels some acclimatisation will be required in a stadium where Scotland haven’t won since 1999. “It is going to be potentially quite hostile and a real test in that regard but that is something I look forward to and enjoy although it will be a 
contrast from playing at Murrayfield (for Edinburgh) in front of 4-5000.

“I suppose the closest I have experienced to hostility so far is away to Munster but I’ve visited the Stade de France when I was in Paris and had a look around.

“It is another home of rugby and I couldn’t wish for anything more than to play there.”

Few know the French psyche better than flanker Al Strokosch, late of Boroughmuir and Edinburgh and now of Perpignan via Gloucester.

Recalled for a 32nd cap at the end of an injury-marred season Strokosch says quietening the home fans could be key.

“If you get on top of them then the crowd seems to turn. It is in their nature not to hold anything back and they get very emotional about things.

“There could be a bit of anger if we go out there and win but that is not for us to worry about.

“I know the French are hurting, though, and it is wrong to say they focus only on grand slams and if that doesn’t happen turn their attention to the next World Cup.

“France want to win every game they play.”

It is quite uncanny how the teams have each come up with changes in the same two positions – flanker and second row – almost as if a pairing arrangement exists.

In many other respects it could be hard to separate the rivals and the hope must be that the contest is remembered for tries at the end of a championship which, so far, has yielded just 31 which is 15 fewer than the previous lowest figure this century. If it comes down to goal-kicking, on the other hand, then Scotland have the best accuracy rate in the tournament which is 83 per cent compared to France’s 61 per cent.