THE FACTS MARK BEN­NETT

Rugby World - - Pool One -

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

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