It didn’t take long for Mark Bennett to be brought back down to earth with an almighty bump in his first game back for Glasgow Warriors at the weekend, after a summer living the Olympic dream with the silver-medal -winning Team GB Sevens team in Brazil.
The 23-year-old centre had taken a couple of weeks’ holiday in Bali after his heroics in Rio, before returning to his day job and making his first appearance of the 2016-17 campaign in last Friday night’s defeat away to Cardiff Blues.
What he encountered in that match was a stark contrast to the wide open spaces he had got used to operating in during his sevens sabbatical.
“We were up against a good side. Cardiff’s defence was excellent. I think I had three ball carries and made on average something like 0.7 metres so it wasn’t as if I was getting anywhere. I got skelped a couple of times – Nick Williams got me once,” he ruefully chuckles.
Williams is, of course, the 260lb back-row behemoth that the Blues signed from Ulster over the summer. Bennett weighs in at around 60lbs less than the giant New Zealander, so a head-on collision was not going to end well for the plucky but slight Scotsman. “I ran an inside ball off Rory [Clegg], caught the ball, and I was going at some pace, then I looked up and saw who it was and thought: Here we go. There was just no space!” he added.
Fortunately, Bennett survived that clash with nothing more serious than a touch of bruised pride, and now he is looking forward to getting some more game time under his belt in order to push himself back up the pecking order at both the Warriors and with Scotland.
“It was a great summer and sevens really sharpens you up skill-wise and fitness-wise, so I feel like I’m in a good place. I got back into training two weeks ago and it’s gone well. I’m just looking forward to hitting the ground running,” he added.
“Sevens is a real test of your skills at the top level, there’s no hiding place, which means everything has to be on-point, and I just feel good coming back in.”
Bennett’s decision to go to Rio meant that he missed out on Scotland’s summer tour of Japan, as well as the start of the Warriors’ Pro12 campaign. Coming at the end of a frustrating 2015-16 season dogged by injury and a slight dip in form, which cost him his Scotland place during the Six Nations, he knows that he has a bit of catching up to do – but believes he is now in the right place physically and psychologically to really kick on.
“At the end of the day it’s no different to if I was playing from the start of the season, I would still have to be playing well to get into the team, so I just need to do it a couple of weeks later than I would have,” he reasons.
“I needed a break. From the warm-up for the World Cup it’s been pretty full-on, it was a long year so the time away has done me the world of good. Now I’m back in and raring to go.
“It’s the first break of more than a week I’ve had in over a year. I did nothing for two weeks – it was great. My body wasn’t thanking me for it during the first week back but I’m okay now. I feel like I’m probably the fittest I’ve been.”
And he doesn’t expect the adjustment in playing style from the abbreviated game to full rugby to be a major stumbling block, either.
“Everyone keeps asking me how it has been adapting coming back from sevens to fifteens, and I tell them that it’s a hell of a lot easier than going the other way. I feel a lot more comfortable defensively because there’s not as much space – it’s nice having only five yards to deal with rather than 25 yards,” he explained.
The Warriors will be looking to get their season back on track when Ulster are their guests on Friday night. The men from Northern Ireland have never won at Scotstoun and Bennett is determined to play his part in maintaining that record.
With Scotland stand-off Finn Russell coming through his comeback match (after four months out) playing club rugby for Ayr against Hawick in the BT Premiership last Saturday, the home backline should be back to something approaching it’s deadliest best for this challenge.