'Great attitude': Why Scotland snub might just suit Edinburgh centre Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett was a surprise omission from Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad this week but his coach at Edinburgh, Mike Blair, believes the centre can benefit from a run of games with his club rather than being a bit-part player with Scotland.

Mark Bennett should get an extended run of games with Edinburgh after his Six Nations squad snub.
Mark Bennett should get an extended run of games with Edinburgh after his Six Nations squad snub.

Bennett was part of the national side during the autumn series but started just one of the four Tests – the opener against Australia when Townsend selected a side composed entirely of home-based players. He also appeared as a replacement against New Zealand, but had to play second fiddle to Chris Harris, who started against Fiji, the All Blacks and Argentina.

Bennett will be at the heart of things on Sunday when Edinburgh welcome Saracens to a sold-out DAM Health Stadium in a Heineken Champions Cup match which will go a long way to shaping each club’s destiny in the competition. While both teams have already qualified for the round of 16, they know that a win will help deliver a coveted top-four finish in Pool A which would give them a home tie in the first knockout stage.

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Edinburgh ran Sarries close in north London last month before going down 30-26 in a match which saw Bennett forced off near the end of the first half. He’ll partner the returning James Lang in the centre on Sunday against opponents who have named an unchanged starting line-up following their bonus-point win over Lyon last week.

“Mark was obviously away [with Scotland] in November and played some minutes but he was on the bench or training for three of the four weeks,” said Blair. “It can be difficult for that kind of player. Mark wants to play. He wants rhythm in his game because that's how he finds form. He has done some excellent stuff in the past few games and he is really important for us around the group in terms of his leadership. He is naturally really disappointed, but he is quite philosophical. He is saying he just wants to be in charge of what he can do and if he doesn't get selected as a result of that then so be it.

“It's a great attitude, something that shows a large amount of maturity. He has said he is going to play as well as he can, but he's also aware it is only the opinions of two or three people that means he's not in the squad. As long as he is enjoying himself and contributing then he can accept it.”

Having run Sarries so close at the StoneX Stadium and beaten them in the Challenge Cup last season, Blair expects them to be wary of their trip north. “The performance down there definitely gives us confidence,” he said. “It also means Saracens are going to be really respectful and up for the game. Potentially, they might have taken us a little bit lightly in the first game.”

Blair has made three personnel changes to his team following last weekend’s away win over Castres. Lang replaces Cammy Hutchison at inside centre, Ben Vellacott is preferred to Charlie Shiel at scrum-half and Luke Crosbie returns at openside flanker which means Sam Skinner moving back to the second row, with Marshall Sykes dropping out. Blair Kinghorn continues on the wing for the third week in a row.

Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Henry Immelman; 14. Jack Blain, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. James Lang, 11. Blair Kinghorn; 10. Charlie Savala, 9. Ben Vellacott; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. David Cherry, 3. WP Nel, 4. Sam Skinner, 5. Grant Gilchrist (c), 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Luke Crosbie, 8. Viliame Mata.Replacements: 16. Adam McBurney, 17. Boan Venter, 18. Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Nick Haining, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Cameron Hutchison, 23. Wes Goosen.

Saracens: 15. Elliot Daly; 14. Max Malins, 13. Alex Lozowski, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Sean Maitland; 10. Alex Goode, 9. Ivan van Zyl; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George (c), 3. Marco Riccioni, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Hugh Tizard, 6. Andrew Christie, 7. Ben Earl, 8. Billy Vunipola.Replacements: 16. Kapeli Pifeleti, 17. Robin Hislop, 18. Christian Judge, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Theo Dan, 21. Aled Davies, 22. Manu Vunipola, 23. Alex Lewington.

Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France)