Mark Bennett’s inter-city switch saw him blanked by former Glasgow Warriors team-mate
Switching sides is never easy, particularly when you are joining your local rivals, as Mark Bennett discovered when he made the move from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
Bennett, who swapped Scotstoun for the capital in 2017, is one of the few players likely to be involved in Monday’s 1872 Cup derby who has crossed the divide.
His rugby upbringing was strictly west coast. Born in Irvine, he came through the ranks at Cumnock and captained the Glasgow under-16 and under-18 teams.
He later played with distinction for Ayr before heading to France in 2011 to sign for Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne.
When he returned to Scotland his move to Glasgow Warriors seemed a natural one and his form for the club saw him called up for international duty.
His move along the M8 four years ago was something of a surprise and Bennett admits he found it odd when he came up against his former team-mates for the first time.
“It wasn’t so much playing against Glasgow I found strange, it was just playing against mates, the likes of Fraser Brown, Lee Jones, Swinno [Tim Swinson] - who I was really friendly with,” he said.
“When it’s against your mates, it’s tougher. Once you’re into the game, you don’t really think about it. Bob Harley blanked me on the side of the pitch. We were both getting subbed on at the same time.
“I think I just said hello to him and he just completely ignored me. But I think that’s just Bob more than anything else! Some guys are happy to have a blether before the game and I’m pretty relaxed the way I go about it.”
The two men are likely to lock horns again on Monday and it’s safe to assume conversation will be kept to a minimum.
Sadly, the players’ voices are all that will be heard at Scotstoun following the restrictions imposed by the Scottish Government which will effectively see the game played behind closed doors.
Supporters were also absent from last year’s 1872 Cup double-header so both teams know what to expect - but it’s still a huge blow for players and fans alike.
“It’s always a great crowd at Scotstoun and it’s a real shame,” said Bennett. “It’s a great atmosphere to be involved in, whether they are behind you or you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s disappointing they won’t be there.
“We were hoping we were past that and it’s a shame we are not. But at least we know what to expect. It’s just about making sure we’ve got our head around it early and just be ready to go on Monday.
“Does it make it any easier? I don’t think it does. We are playing against a top-quality side who had a great win at the weekend. And it’s a derby, so they’re going to be up for it.”
Glasgow’s win over Exeter in the Heineken Champions Cup combined with Edinburgh’s equally impressive victory away at Saracens in the Challenge Cup has raised expectations that the festive inter-city double header will serve up a couple of crackers, with the return match scheduled for the DAM Health Stadium on January 2.
Both teams like to attack and Bennett is looking forward to pitting his wits against the Warriors centres Sione Tuipulotu and Sam Johnson who have been highly impressive this season.
“They are two top-quality players,” said Bennett. “Sammy is a great distributor as well as everything else he has got. He is a really physical guy going forward and in defence. He brings that extra dimension – he’s got great skills and a tough player to come up against.
“Watching Sione, he is really physical, he has got good footwork and has been at the heart of everything that has been good about Glasgow these last few weeks.
“He was really good at the weekend [against Exeter] and was making line breaks for fun against the Dragons. It is a real challenge and for me it is an exciting opportunity to put myself up against them and see how it turns out.”
The arrival of Mike Blair as head coach at Edinburgh has helped give Bennett a new lease of life this season and the outside centre is playing with a freedom that was seldom evident under Blair’s predecessor, Richard Cockerill.
Bennett’s form won him a Scotland recall in the autumn but the 28-year-old was denied the chance to add to his 22 caps by a knee injury.
“There is never a great time for an injury and that was particularly crap,” acknowledged Bennett, who was last capped in 2018.
“It was just a niggle I had had for a few weeks. I was adamant I was going to keep pushing through and I was going to be fine. If I had a chance of being involved in the squad, I was going to be there, but it just wasn’t right. Hindsight is a great thing but thankfully it is all good now.
“I thought I started the season really well. I was back to my best and then obviously picked up a niggle and was unwell for a week, which was bad timing. I had a little bit of game time against Treviso and then the Saracens game. It wasn’t a game for an outside back, but I did what I needed to do really well. I’m pretty happy with the way I am plugging along at the minute. I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
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