Mark Bennett sparkles on centre stage for Scotland

Mark Bennett runs in the first of his two tries against Japan as the Scotland centre produced a stand-out display. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mark Bennett runs in the first of his two tries against Japan as the Scotland centre produced a stand-out display. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THERE are some pretty good players who have gone through entire careers without claiming a World Cup try but Scotland’s Mark Bennett is in the unusual position of having two to his name after just one match.

He struck during Scotland’s purple patch deep inside the second half of this match after the forwards had done a lot of softening up work in the first 50 minutes. Bennett’s first came in 55 minutes after Stuart Hogg has ripped the Japanese line to shreds. With ten minutes to go and the Japanese tiring fast, Bennett struck again, picking a sweet diagonal angle and cutting right through a number of red-and-white shirts to touch down under the posts.

“It was a fantastic start for us,” said the Glasgow centre. “It was exactly the result and performance that we needed. We knew it was going to be a tough task and we were up against it a bit in the first half, we knew we had to keep our composure. We played really well in the second half and we got the bonus try. That is not something we targeted at the start of the game, because it was just about getting the win, but now the game is over we know how massive and important that bonus point could be.”

The performance of Bennett and Matt Scott together in Scotland’s midfield was highly promising after little enough time in the saddle. Both players showed up well when the Scots were under the hammer in the second quarter of the match and when the tide eventually turned the pair linked well to give Scotland a dream start.

The Scots were a little unlucky not to score at the end of the first 40 when Tommy Seymour was bundled into touch but they obviously felt that it was only a matter of time before all that pressure was turned into points and so it proved, even if there was a suggestion that Bennett’s legs went over the dead-ball line before he touched down for his first try.

“On a personal level I was delighted to score two tries,” said Bennett. “They were both from great team plays and I was just the lucky one to be on the end of it.

“I’ve had a couple of texts already and it seems I was close [to going into touch/dead-ball line] with the first. I hadn’t realised at the time, I don’t know what I was doing and I certainly wasn’t aware I was so close to touch. I’ve had a few messages but it’s on the scoreboard and that’s all that matters.

“We put Japan under a lot of pressure towards the end of the first half and although we didn’t manage to score I think we all felt they were beginning to tire a little. We just had to keep the pressure on them in the second half and grind them down. We managed to do that so, from a team point of view, we are delighted.”

If Bennett’s brace of tries marked him out as the best of the backs, John Hardie was the stand out forward on the field, at least once Japan’s half-man/half-tank Naki Mafi had left the field. If anyone doubted the right of the recently imported Kiwi flanker to take his place in the Scotland squad before this match, this performance must have converted a good few unbelievers to his cause.

Vern Cotter has never numbered himself amongst that group and, sure enough, the coach was effusive in his praise, or as effusive as he ever will be.

“Once again, I think he was true to himself,” said one Kiwi about another. “He has a great work rate, he is very effective in defence and he made some important carries as well. He finds himself in wider parts to receive passes and he’s an explosive player. He countered very well and he needed to against a good attack.”

So effective was Scotland’s only specialist seven in this match that you wonder at the wisdom of Cotter only bringing one of them to this World Cup because it seems unlikely that Hardie will be able to back up that performance with another like it on Wednesday.

As well as doing all the dirty work that you expect from an openside flanker, Hardie hinted at a flamboyant side to his rugby-playing character in the build-up to his own try. As he was being tackled into touch the flanker flung a high risk pass out the back of his hand that fell perfectly for Scott.

“Yeah. I threw it out,” said Hardie. “I knew there was a good defender on the outside. Just luckily it came off. Those things happen and you have some good fortune and bad fortune.”

The outstanding performances of two of Scotland’s brightest young talents yesterday owed nothing to fortune.