Maitland the survivor of Christchurch horror

New Zealander who lived through earthquake prepares for Twickenham

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The Independent Online

It will be classified as a shock, no doubt, if Scotland manage to open their Six Nations campaign with a win at Twickenham next Saturday. Not since 1983 have they beaten England in south-west London. But the latest New Zealander lined up to make a debut for the Scots knows all about real earth-shattering experiences. Sean Maitland was at home, making poached eggs for lunch, when the Christchurch earthquake struck on Tuesday 22 February 2011.

"That was a very scary day," the wing-cum-full-back recalls, sitting in his Scotland training kit following a prolonged afternoon workout on the pitch at Scotstoun Stadium in the west end of Glasgow. "Have you ever been through an earthquake? You don't want to."

He adds: "I was with a few of the other Crusaders boys hanging out in our house, basically an old place made of plaster. Then the earthquake hit and it just felt like the whole house was going to fall down on top of us in a split second.

"I was injured at the time – I had a problem with my foot – but when the earthquake hit I just ran. You're supposed to get under a table or something hard but, man, I just shot out the door and I was running like I never had an injury in my life. I was sprinting.

"Our area wasn't hit too badly but my partner worked in the city in an eight-storey building so straight away I was worried about her. I just ran to the city but couldn't get all that far in there.

"It was frightening. I ran past one of the buildings that people died in, seeing bodies on the side of the street. There were people dead in their cars, buildings having fallen on them. It was a rough day, one I'll never forget. I can't explain it. Once you've been through an earthquake of that magnitude you'll be able to understand what I'm trying to say. We got used to it, though. There were so many aftershocks that it sort of became the norm. I was lucky because I didn't lose anybody, but plenty did.''

That day 185 people died as a quake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale struck New Zealand's second most populous city. Maitland neglects to say that he spent much of the aftermath searching for casualties and then, in the days that followed, helping clear the rubble.

At the time Maitland was the top try-scorer in the Super 15 and, seven months out from the home World Cup, was still being talked about as an All Black in the making. A star of the "Baby Blacks" New Zealand teams who won the Under-19 and Under-20 World Championships, he picked up his form when the Crusaders hit the road – without a home stadium to play in – bagging two tries as Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Co beat the Natal Sharks 44-28 in a memorable Super 15 try-fest at Twickenham.

When it came to the selection crunch, however, Maitland failed to make the All Black cut. It was then that he started to consider switching allegiance to the land of his grandfather, Stan Maitland, a welder in the Glasgow shipyards who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1970s.

Last autumn he joined Glasgow Warriors, and the smart money is on the 24-year-old making his Scotland debut in the Six Nations opener at Twickenham. "I'm so blessed that I have this opportunity," he says. "I'm proud of my Scottish heritage. My granddad and my dad always reminded me that I was part Scottish and that I should never forget it. My granddad brought over a Scottish pie machine with him. I grew up eating Scottish pies with HP sauce."

Maitland did his growing up in Tokora, a small town just south of Hamilton. "It's a rough place," he says, "but a lot of good rugby players have come out of there: Richard Kahui, Quade Cooper, Keven Mealamu, Isaac Boss."

Cooper, the native Kiwi who has become a feisty Wallaby fly-half and has dabbled in boxing, is Maitland's cousin. "We grew up together in Tokora," Maitland says. "We're pretty close.

"I remember at primary school he used to lose the plot quite easily. He was an angry boy at school. I remember him chasing me around with this little chair in his hand. He was trying to smash me with a chair."

What had the future Kilted Kiwi done to upset the future Boxing Wallaby? "Oh, I was quite cheeky at school," he confesses. "I could just run away, because I was pretty fast." Quade Cooper's cousin still is pretty nifty, as England may well discover.