THE FACTS MARK BENNETT
Age 23 (3.9.93) Born Cumnock Team Glasgow Position Centre Size 6ft & 14st Test caps 16 (6T) Twitter handle @MarkSBBennett take their ball away on the floor. Fiji were different. They weren’t going to ground for anybody.
“Fiji hadn’t played that well. They’d scraped through a couple of games and we thought if we could create some rucks we had players who were great at turning the ball over. Then we could play. When we couldn’t create a ruck against them we were screwed.”
It was an exhibition in the final and one of the men leading the rout was one of Bennett’s old mates from Glasgow, Leone Nakarawa, who is now with Racing 92 in Paris, one of Glasgow’s Champions Cup group rivals. The big man was immense, offloading no matter how many opponents were piling into him. It was like trying to bring down a tall, high-stepping, fast-moving building.
“I swapped shirts with him, so I now have a massive Fijian jersey that will never fit me. It’s a nice one to keep.
Bennett has work to do to re-establish himself in the Glasgow team, not to mind the Scotland side. He has all the class to do it but head coach Gregor Townsend, in his final season before taking the Scotland reins, is not short of options in his midfield at Scotstoun.
He’s not short of massive games in the Champions Cup either. The group consists of Racing, who are star-laden and on a shortlist of potential winners, plus Leicester and Munster, previous European champions. Leicester and Munster no longer rule their own domestic competition but are still huge outfits. Bigger budgets and bigger fan bases by far compared to Glasgow.
“If you want to be the best then you have to beat the best,” says Bennett, 23. “Munster have been a real force and they’re going to come back. Leicester are still one of the powerhouses of English rugby. We played Racing in the group last year and they’re a team of superstars. They beat us in Paris and we beat them in Kilmarnock, while our pitch was unplayable at Scotstoun.
“We’ve never made the quarter-finals in Europe but we always feel we’re close. It’s fine margins, a mistake here and a mistake there. It’s not being clinical when we needed to be that has held us back. It doesn’t get much harder than this group but we’re up for the challenge.
“The money of the Racings and the Leicesters doesn’t bother me. I don’t care about that. If anything, it suits us better. Scots love being underdogs. We’re used to it.”
Bennett has had 12 months of highs and lows and highs again. Pro rugby is a turbulent business but his mission is to keep the feel-good from Rio going for as long as he can. “We need to take the step up in Europe,” he says, “and there’s no reason why we can’t do it this time.”
Ring leader Gregor Townsend wants to bow out on a high