Centre Mark Bennett's Edinburgh comeback delayed

Scotland cap Mark Bennett's hopes of making a long-awaited Edinburgh debut this week have been dashed.

It was thought that he was closing in on a return to action after nine months out, but he has hit a snag in his recovery in recent days.

Bennett, 24, joined Edinburgh from Glasgow Warriors in the summer when he was already a few months into a rehab programme following cruciate ligament reconstruction. Head coach Richard Cockerill said last week he hoped to use him in this Friday’s European Challenge Cup clash with Krasny Yar at Myreside as they go for their fourth win in four pool games.

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However, things have changed in the last seven days and the centre will not be risked. As a result Bennett may be a doubt for the first festive Guinness Pro14 match against the Warriors on 23 December, Cockerill hinting that throwing him into a match of that magnitude first up may just be too much.

Edinburgh's Viliame Mata in action

“Mark won’t be quite right for this weekend so we will have to take a rain check on that return,” Cockerill said.

“There is no setback. He is just a tiny bit behind in one of the things [fitness indicators] he needs to reach. He is not ready to be signed off to play, but has done 95 per cent of what he has to do [to get back].

“He may well be available for the Glasgow games, but 
having not played for a year we will see.”

Meanwhile, Cockerill has hailed the recent impact of Fijian No 8 Viliame Mata, stating that he has been “outstanding” and is pushing to start against the Warriors in ten days time.

Edinburgh's Viliame Mata in action

The 26-year-old won an Olympic sevens gold medal with his country in the summer of 2016 and joined Edinburgh a few months later, but never really showed what he was capable of last term.

He did not appear in the black and red this season until late October away to Krasny Yar, but ahead of the return match against the Russians he has been in fine form.

As a result the man known as ‘Bill’ is pushing Cornell du Preez and Magnus Bradbury hard for the starting No 8 
jersey against the Warriors in the two Guinness Pro14 fixtures on 23 and 30 December.

“I think Bill has been outstanding. He’s probably been our standout player in the last few weeks,” Cockerill said.

“He is very physical with ball in hand, a very good lineout forward – and in those wide channels he’s world class.

“So I’m very happy to have him, he is pushing guys hard and creating competition.”

With Duncan Weir and Jason Tovey both still some weeks away from returning from injury, Edinburgh will likely be going into those two big games against their rivals from along the M8 with new boy Jaco van der Walt at stand-off.

The South African has only played for the club three times since joining last month, but Cockerill has faith in the 23-year-old and feels game time against Krasny Yar – when a few top line players will be rested – will be good for him.

“Jaco has played Super Rugby at a high level,” the head coach said.

“He has a very good understanding of the game. We need to develop a game where we are attacking the gain line more and more, we want to be more of a threat ball in hand and Jaco will help with that.

“Jaco brings that little bit of energy at the gain line, physically he is very good and he is a player that will give spark to the team.

“Hopefully the more he plays the more comfortable he feels and the better he will become in an Edinburgh jersey.”