Phil Burleigh: Mark Bennett can add ‘tough edge’ to Edinburgh

Mark Bennett in action for Glasgow, taking on Edinburghs Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in the 1872 Cup. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Mark Bennett in action for Glasgow, taking on Edinburghs Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in the 1872 Cup. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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News that Mark Bennett will join Edinburgh this summer on a three-year deal is a timely boost to a squad which has had to operate for the last four and a half months without any sort of idea as to what the future holds in terms of the coaching set-up beyond the end of the current season.

The Glasgow Warriors and Scotland centre, who was a member of the Great Britain Sevens squad which won silver at last summer’s Olympic Games, has been shifted east along the M8 corridor to make way for the arrival at Scotstoun of Huw Jones from South Africa.

Interim head coach Duncan Hodge is effectively on trial for the job on a permanent basis until the end of the season, but performances and results have been mixed since the former Scotland stand-off stepped up to the role; and with Dave Rennie due to take over from Gregor Townsend at Glasgow Warriors next term, the SRU – who ultimately run the nation’s two pro teams – may be feeling some pressure to make a similarly high-profile appointment at the struggling capital outfit.

“Obviously we are not too sure yet what is happening next year at this stage, but having guys like that [Bennett] coming in is good for us,” said Edinburgh centre Phil Burleigh yesterday.

“It is nice to have another centre here and someone with international experience who has proved himself. I think international caps have a tough edge and a certain way they go about things. They are professional and guys learn and thrive off that. They always give the team a lift,” added the New Zealander.

Burleigh, who is contracted to the club until the summer of 2018, will be hoping to wear the No 12 jersey next season and be loading the bullets for Bennett to fire through the gaps at outside centre.

“If you have someone with his talent it makes it easier for you, but to be fair guys like Chris Dean and others have done really well at 13 this season,” says the 30-year-old playmaker.

“He will bring a different side to things. Like Duncan [Weir] he is coming from Glasgow where they have a slick background so I am sure he will be confident. He has a pretty tough edge to him, as players who have played international rugby do; he has a lot of experience; and he runs some great lines. His experience will be huge for the young guys here.”

In the short-term, the priority for Burleigh and his team-mates must be to improve on their abject ninth-place league position. Realistically, the team’s chances of making the top six and qualifying for the Champions Cup next year are minimal, but climbing a few places up the ladder would be an important morale boost.

The team have been competitive in their last two outings against Munster at home and Ulster away but have had to make do with losing bonus points. They now have a chance to make it third time lucky against Irish opposition when they take on Leinster at the Royal Dublin Showground on Friday night.

Edinburgh are still alive in the second tier European Challenge Cup, but unless they can improve their league record then it is going to be very hard for Hodge to persuade his paymasters that he deserves an extended run.

“He [Hodge] has done a great job. If you see the way we are attacking now we are doing some brilliant things and with a young group of guys for the rest of the season I only hope we can put it together for him, and get some wins on the board,” said Burleigh.

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