Bennett gains fluency in speech and movement
ONE of France’s sleeping giants is stirring. Clermont Auvergne have made it through to what is only their second European quarter-final of the last decade. The French heavyweights face Saracens in one of the most compelling and closely matched encounters of the competition and they do so with three Scots in their extended squad, writes Iain Morrison.
Nathan Hines will start while Jason White and Mark Bennett will not, the latter two at opposite ends of their careers. White has done pretty much everything there is to do in the game and Bennett…well, who knows just what the young Glaswegian might achieve?
His first achievement was conversing in passable French but the move abroad was anything but easy at first, especially after finding his ligaments had turned to linguine when he wrecked his anterior cruciate in an innocuous training mishap.
Bennett has nothing but gratitude for White, who took the youngster under his wing after the accident. But even with the protective blanket of a small Scottish clique, it’s fair to say that the step from Cumnock to Clermont was an eye- opener.
“I think the biggest surprise is that Clermont is very much a rugby town. Almost as many people watched us train with the main squad as watched us play matches at Ayr last season.”
At the age of 18 Bennett had already scored a brace of tries in the Scottish Cup final to help Ayr beat Melrose and help himself to a man-of-the-match award. He signed for Clermont and enjoyed pre-season games in the first team before hurting his knee exactly one week into the league season.
Seven months on and the 19-year-old Scottish centre has had four games back since his return to action, two for his club “Espoirs” (the Under-23 hopefuls) and another two for Scotland’s Under-20 team where he scored a late try against Italy and made an even later one to snatch an unexpected win after the hooter. So how is the knee holding up?
“It’s good thanks, I’m not having any problems with it any more,” says the teenager. “I worked hard in my time off and I worked a lot with the medical team over here and I was lucky that it’s taken so well but I’m not going to complain.
“We’re working towards regaining my old pace, I’m probably not there yet but we’re getting there. It’s obviously going take a bit of time for the speed to come back but we’re getting there.”
It’s a phrase that peppers the conversation…“we’re getting there”. Bennett makes the claim not only about regaining his startling pace that marked him out as one to watch from an early age, but he says the exact same thing about his fluency in the French language, about Clermont’s challenge in the Heineken Cup and just about everything else…“we’re getting there”.
Most of Clermont’s midfield roster have already arrived. In addition to the starting French duo of Wesley Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie they boast the sublime talents of All Black Regan King and Italian/Argentine Gonzalo Canale.
“It’s excellent and the guys are all really good with me, trying to bring me on, just talking to me all the time,” says Bennett of his illustrious colleagues. “You want to learn from the best and so I think I’m in the right place! I think that we’re obviously hoping to do well.
“We’ve got a big game against Saracens this weekend and the boys are all working hard to work towards that. We aim to win and keep progressing in this tournament.
“Obviously this is my first year here so I’m not sure about the past but we’re definitely trying to win the Heineken Cup this season. We’re looking to do well and we know we’ve got the squad and the players to go hard for the tournament and we’ll go for it.
“Saracens like to play with the ball so it should be an exciting game. They’re going to want to move us about and wear us down before going in for the kill but hopefully we’ll stand up to that and play our own game.”
Rumours suggest that Glasgow tried to tempt Bennett back home half way through his two-year contract but, as the youngster points out, he’s enjoyed the French experience so far and with regular rugby things can only get better.
The only cloud on the horizon is a tug of war between Scotland’s senior squad and the U20 outfit for his services this summer. The U20s need him, but Bennett’s interests might be best served by joining the Scotland tour to Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Is the teenager really good enough for the senior squad? Well, he’s getting there.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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