GLASGOW have signed promising young centre Mark Bennett from Clermont Auvergne to the end of the season but with a hope that he might be back for good.
The 20-year-old came through the Cumnock and Ayr clubs and joined Glasgow’s academy system, making his Warriors debut against Leinster at just 18. But he turned down an ‘Elite Development’ contract at the Warriors nearly two years ago to instead make the move into the recent French Top 14 champions’ system.
After overcoming a serious knee injury in his first season, he has impressed the French outfit to the extent that he has moved through the under-19s and under-21 to the under-23 camp and become part of the senior squad this season.
However, his route to regular exposure in the Top 14 has been blocked by the presence of leading France talents Aurelien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana and All Blacks Regan King and Benson Stanley. SRU coaches and Warriors coach Gregor Townsend have long admired Bennett and moved swiftly when the possibility emerged of him returning to Scotland, initially on loan to the end of this season.
Townsend said: “Mark has the potential to become a very important player for Glasgow Warriors. We already have a good number of options in the centres, so we’ll be looking to Mark to make a case for selection. Having coached him in the past, I know how driven he is to improve. His time in France will have developed him both as a rugby player and a person. From my conversations with him recently, the necessary desire and hunger to transfer what he has learned are there in abundance. He’s here for the rest of the season, and, as with any player who comes in on loan, we’ll be constantly assessing if and how they might fit into our plans in the longer term.”
Bennett said: “It’s hugely exciting for me to have the opportunity to return to Glasgow. It’s always been my ambition to play professional rugby for the Warriors, and it was a massively tough decision to leave for Clermont 18 months ago. There has been real progress at Glasgow on and off the field since then, and it’s a great environment to be coming into.”
Neil McIlroy, the former Jed-Forest and Borders prop, who is now Clermont’s team manager, said the move was designed to give Bennett game-time but would not be drawn on whether it could turn into a permanent one. “We will be monitoring his progress closely and wish him all the best,” he said.