HAVING only recently entered his 30s, Sean Maitland seems to have developed a heightened awareness of the brevity of sporting careers, but the British & Irish Lions winger has suggested that he is part of a key group of players in the current Scotland squad who are approaching their peak at the right time.

Following the release of Ross Ford back to Edinburgh earlier in the week, the oldest players in this squad are now 32, and there are several others who have been through many campaigns together and will still be at their best when the World Cup comes around in a year’s time.

“The group is a good mix. Hopefully we can get John [Barclay] back to get the average age up a little bit, but we’ve got a few, let’s call them experienced players,” said Maitland.

In the course of yesterday’s chat he betrayed the extent to which the advancing years are preying on his mind by twice mentioning, unprompted, that he is now 30 having reached that landmark in September and he hinted at the coming World Cup as a natural point at which to consider his international future should he get there, noting that: “Obviously when you come through the whole cycle of a World Cup it’s the pinnacle of our sport and for me I’m not looking too far past that.”

However, as a regular in the squad for the past six years, Maitland reckons he is benefitting from the ideal combination of still being in good shape, while having to fend off up-and-coming youngsters.

“We take it each game as it comes and I’d be lying if I said that if I didn’t get to the World Cup I’d be a happy man, but I’m 30 and I’m still feeling good,” he said.

“I’m still running fast, hopefully. These kids like Blair [Kinghorn] and Darcy Graham are sometimes running rings around me, but it’s good. You’ve got guys like Tommy [Seymour] around the same age, but for me I still feel good and fresh.”

One of the senior figures left out of Scotland’s Tour squad in the summer he admits to having been disappointed at not getting the chance to add to his cap haul, but experience has brought a better understanding of the need for rest.

“I am 30 and probably did not really understand the word 'recovery' until the last few years,” he said.

“It all comes under the heading of preparation. For me, I am trying to recover but it takes me a good few days to recover, playing on the 4G [his club Saracens’ artificial playing surface] is a bit tougher on the body. Now I feel good, I have had two weekends off, been training but feel fresh and ready to go.”

While home-based players have long had an advantage in that regard, he suggested that there is improving awareness elsewhere of the need to look after players better in order to extend careers.

“We play far too much rugby for sure, though in the Premiership they are coming up with new ways of combating that,” said Maitland.

“The RPA [English-based Rugby Players Association] do a great job of looking after the players down there but in terms of the rugby, there is far too much. My club, Sarries, look after me so that, for example, in the Six Nations in those weeks off some boys have to go back to their clubs and play while Mark McCall [Saracens director of rugby] is pretty good and gives the weekend off. Still we play too much rugby.”

While the sport as a whole has undergone much soul-searching regarding player welfare, this weekend’s encounter is likely to offer a reminder of just why it is absolutely necessary to limit players’ exposure to the physicality of the modern game and Maitland seemed to give a little more away than he intended to in referencing fellow Lion Stuart Hogg – jokingly describing his own tactics for dealing with their wingers.

“They’re big boys,” he said. “I’ve played a few times in Europe and in the Prem with [Newcastle’s Vereneki] Goneva and [Toulon’s Josua] Tuisova and they are dangerous players one-on-one in space. You don’t want to give them too much.

“Tuisova is powerful, short and stocky. When you look at his highlights you don’t know if he’s going to step you or bump you, so I’ll probably just take second to last and leave Hoggy, um, whoever’s playing full-back to take last man.”

In reality, no-one has a better understanding of the challenge confronting the Scots than a player who grew up doing battle with Polynesian players.

“There’s Fijians everywhere, isn’t there? Every team you play against has a Fijian. I’ve played against them many times,” Maitland observed.

“The thing about the Fijians is that they’re pretty much developed at 15 – massive. I obviously went to school in New Zealand and we had a couple of Fijians come over from the islands and I just remember them being absolute freaks. It’s something in the water I guess. Look, it’s going to be a great test for us in the backs because on paper they’ve got a great team.”