We need to switch on from the word go if we’re to reach the quarter-finals says Bennett after Scotland’s three slow starts
Centre Mark Bennett has called on Scotland to produce their first complete 80 minutes of the World Cup when it matters most against Samoa at St James’ Park this Saturday.
In all three Pool B encounters so far, the Scots have been guilty of sub-par first-40 performances which have been injected with some much-needed zest after the half-time oranges.
In the first two games, against Japan and the United States, Vern Cotter’s men were still in touch at the interval and able to power past their opponents as the game wore on, but last Saturday in Newcastle it was a different story. South Africa turned their early dominance into a 17-point gap at the break, an advantage that was always going to require a monumental effort to overhaul.
Scotland have, much as they did in the Six Nations but to better effect, delivered some periods of excellent rugby here in England and you feel the team owe it to themselves as much as the supporters to prove they can execute in two halves.
“We managed to win our first two games with a 40, but we can’t rely on that,” admitted Bennett. “It’s a huge game this weekend and another huge game the following week if we get through. We can’t just go out and think 40 minutes is going to be enough. It needs to be an 80-minute performance, so we need to switch on from the word go and get into them.”
Scotland face Samoa knowing that a win will assure them of their place in a quarter-final against either Wales or Australia the following weekend. The Samoans may be out of the tournament but this weekend remains a pressure game for Scotland and pressure can do funny things.
Skipper Greig Laidlaw quite fairly pointed out recently, when asked about Scotland’s slow starts, that the nature of modern Test rugby was that it takes time to get on top of teams, wear them down and open up gaps. But, while blitzing teams, especially ones as physical as Samoa, from the first whistle is a tough ask, getting a bit more on the front foot from an earlier stage would certainly ease the tension this Saturday.
An early try or two would go down nicely too – Scotland have yet to register a first-half touchdown in this World Cup – and Bennett is now one of Cotter’s most potent weapons.
He didn’t feature against South Africa after playing pretty much the full 160 minutes in the first two games, registering a brace of tries in Scotland’s 45-10 win over Japan.
Bennett said: “I want to play every game, but the side that they put out [against South Africa] was put out for a reason. And they went out and did their job. They were up against a strong physical side and South Africa came out on top in the end, but that’s the way it goes.”
The Glasgow centre said that Cotter had not said anything about him being rested for the Samoa crunch and added: “It was the same as every other team selection. It was a case of ‘this is the team’, that’s that. You want to play in every game but you’re not going to be able to. Don’t get me wrong. I was in a sore, sore place after the two games in four days. My body feels a bit better for the break.”
Bennett doesn’t believe Samoa being out of the tournament will take any edge off the intensity of Saturday’s game.
“No, I think that they’re going to come for us, because they still need to try and finish third to get automatic qualification [for the 2019 World Cup]. They’ve still got a lot to play for. And then obviously we’ve got a hell of a lot to play for as well, so it’s a big game.
“They’re going to try to bring a physical game as well – they’re going to try to beat us up.
“ They’re strong, physical guys, and they’ve got players at the back like Tim Nanai-Williams. He’s an outstanding game-breaker and he’s been playing really well this tournament. They’re going to bring physicality to us but then also try to get the finesse in there with these guys trying to finish it off.”
Bennett was able to soak up the sensational atmosphere at the home of Newcastle United Football Club last Saturday and that has more than whetted his appetite for performing in that environment Scottish fans this weekend.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said the 22-year-old.
“I did the warm-up at the weekend and being out on the park and seeing it build up, it was huge.
“Hopefully, if selected this weekend, I can get a real taste of it. The boys on the park enjoyed it, so hopefully we can get the same again this weekend. Get a big crowd in, cheer us on.”