A triumphant year for Mark Bennett ended on a bitter note last Sunday when he was part of a Glasgow Warriors side which ended up on the wrong end of a 23-11 scoreline against arch rivals Edinburgh in the first leg of this season’s 1872 Cup double-header at BT Murrayfield.
The 22-year-old can look back at a 12-month period in which he established himself as a key member of the Scotland team, with a particular highlight being that memorable try which looked for a glorious few moments like securing an historic World Cup quarter-final victory over Australia.
His exploits during that tournament saw him named on the shortlist for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, and selected in the world team of the year by the New Zealand Herald.
Bennett even scored an early try against Edinburgh last weekend, demonstrating once again that his ability to hit devastating running angles singles him out as one of the most potent attacking players in Scottish rugby.
However, the cut-throat nature of professional rugby means that personal achievements such as these count for very little after the event. You are only as good as your last result, and Edinburgh’s rampant defensive performance last weekend means that Bennett is acutely aware of how tough it is going to be for Glasgow to turn that defeat around when the two sides renew hostilities tomorrow evening.
“It is always nice to score a try, especially at Murrayfield, but there is absolutely no doubt that I would have traded it for a win. We were beaten by a good Edinburgh side so fair play to them for that. We’re certainly going to have our work cut out in the return match – but we’re more than up for the challenge,” said the centre.
While Bennett was full of praise for the way Edinburgh performed, he also insisted that last weekend’s result was a case of his team losing the match rather than the opposition winning it.
“Edinburgh’s defence is ranked number one in the league. They have conceded the fewest tries so we knew what to expect defence wise. In attack we knew what to expect too, but again they played well and we were not up to the standard we usually are,” he said.
“We know that we need to be more clinical and decisive. We made a lot of silly errors and we coughed up possession. That was our own undoing.
“We need to just go for it and attack them. Edinburgh defended really well – they put us under a lot of pressure. They filled the field really well and it looked like there wasn’t any space so that is all credit to them, but we need to focus on cutting out our own mistakes.
“We gave away stupid penalties, I think maybe as a way to calm the storm because Edinburgh were really having a go at us, but it did not work. We did a lot of silly things to put ourselves under pressure.
“Edinburgh’s workrate was exceptional. They killed our ball. We could not get any quick ball and that changes the whole game. It turns it into more of an arm wrestle, which is what they would want against us.
“We need to be more clinical at the breakdown. Quite a few times our first clear was missing the man so he could slow the ball down or boot it out. It completely kills our momentum so it is a case of us picking it up.
“They [Edinburgh] have had a few good results this season and they are challenging. We need to stick to what we know and resort to our standards and take the game to them. That is when we are at our best. Rather than sit back and try and get a feel of the game before we start playing.”
An indication of how Glasgow lost their way last Sunday was in the number of times they coughed up possession by opting for aimless kicks.
“That was partly down to the fact they filled the field so well. We spoke about that this week and that is not how we play. It is going away from what we know which is stupid especially in such a big game. Maybe we were trying to force it too much,” reflected Bennett.
Instead of trying to get behind Edinburgh through kicking the ball, a greater emphasis will be put on getting Taqele Naiyaravoro into the game. The giant Fijian winger showed how devastating he can be when allowed to build up a head of steam three weeks ago, when scoring a hat-trick of blistering tries against the Scarlets – but he struggled to make the anticipated impact last weekend.
“I thought he carried well when he had the ball but [opposite number] Tom Brown played really well. He put his body on the line. I mean, he cut Big T out. We did not create enough opportunities to get him properly up to speed and go for it,” agreed Bennett.
“This week it will be a case of getting him into the game as much as we can and do what we did so effectively, two weeks ago against the Scarlets.”