Big opportunity for Edinburgh’s Matt Scott and Mark Bennett

With the Six Nations approaching, Matt Scott's return to form is timely as they Edinburgh prepare to face Bordeaux-Begles.
With the Six Nations approaching, Matt Scott's return to form is timely as they Edinburgh prepare to face Bordeaux-Begles.
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At one time a centre pairing of Matt Scott and Mark Bennett would be standard news from a Scotland team announcement but after a few years buffeted by injury and loss of form it is a case of rebuilding for midfield players who still have a lot to give.

Scott, 29, and Bennett, 26, will be the axis of the Edinburgh attack early this afternoon as Richard Cockerill’s side aim to reclaim top spot in the European Challenge Cup Pool 3 at French league leaders Bordeaux-Begles.

With 61 caps between them, both hitting their stride again, and a Six Nations squad announcement approaching, today is an opportunity for both.

Asked if he saw that as a future Scotland pairing, Edinburgh attack coach Duncan Hodge said: “That’s where we’re lucky. [Centre] James Johnstone was man of the match last week [in the 61-13 win over Southern Kings which put Edinburgh top of the Pro14 Conference B].

“In terms of Scotland it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of good players. You can mention Sam Johnson [Glasgow], Rory Hutchinson [Northampton], there’s a bit of a headache for [Scotland coach] Gregor [Townsend]. A lot of players sticking their hands up.

“All those two guys [Scott and Bennett] can do is back up their performances for us week to week and that will help their cause. With that in mind, Bordeaux is a huge game.”

Cockerill has made eight changes to the team that beat the Kings last Saturday. Five of those come in the pack as loosehead Rory Sutherland, who signed a new contract last week, and tighthead Simon Berghan come in as WP Nel is rested. Behind that, lock Sam Thomson, and back-row duo Hamish Watson and Bill Mata come into the back five.

In the backline, Scotland star Darcy Graham returns to action on the wing, while scrum-half Nic Groom skippers the side.

Cockerill, said: “Bordeaux are a very big physical team. I think we’ve got to be smart in how we play and clever around our tactics.

“Of course, there are parts of the game where you’ve got to front up and match them, but we can be a little bit smart in how we approach the game and make sure we don’t get into an arm wrestle that suits them more than it suits us.”

Assistant coach Hodge added: “These French teams are big teams, so we don’t want to run straight down their throats, for sure. But we’ve got to win the physical exchanges as well.

“Tactically there’s some stuff in there, but we don’t want to get into a set-piece battle. That’s going to be key as well, but we would like to move them around and get our game going. But that’s no different to normal as well - that’s the way we’ve been playing.”

Edinburgh drew 16-16 at home to the French side a couple of months ago which, at the time, was seen as a bit of a disappointment but, in the context of how Bordeaux have stormed on, could be viewed as a decent result.

“One thing we learned is they’re a bloody good team,” said Hodge. “We missed a few chances and we would say we should have won that night.

“However, they’re a quality team, sitting top of the Top 14, and you don’t do that after 13 rounds if you’re not a great side. What did we learn? That night we lost a few lineouts. First 20, 25 minutes we didn’t have enough of the ball, and that meant they were potentially still close enough to us when maybe they shouldn’t have been, and that cost us in the end. They got a breakaway try then kicked a couple of goals and all of a sudden they had a draw. That was probably the main learnings.”

Edinburgh have had a good record against French teams in the past couple of years, with home and away wins over Toulon and a home victory over Montpellier which propelled them to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup last season.

“Our setpiece is very good, so we can match these big French teams. And I think we’ve a really fit squad. So if we can cope setpiece-wise, then we’d like to think that with 20 minutes to go we’ve got a real chance of competing and winning the game.

“If you look back to Montpellier and Toulon last year, for example, that’s a bit of a 
blueprint.”