Why Mark Bennett is thriving under Mike Blair at Edinburgh and his thoughts on Scotland recall

Mark Bennett has credited new Edinburgh coach Mike Blair for the rejuvenation which has led to a Scotland recall for the player after a three-year absence.

The on-form Mark Bennett makes a break during Edinburgh's win over the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
The on-form Mark Bennett makes a break during Edinburgh's win over the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

The gifted centre will train with the national side at Oriam on Monday in preparation for the Autumn Nations Series which kicks off against Tonga a week on Saturday and continues with games against Australia, South Africa and Japan.

Bennett is seeing more of the ball this season and played a key role on Saturday’s 17-10 win over the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship.

Injuries to Jaco van der Walt and James Lang saw Bennett finish the match at stand-off and he slotted over a tricky penalty with eight minutes remaining to help Edinburgh see out the game.

Mark Bennett assumed kicking duties for Edinburgh after they lost Jaco van der Walt and James Lang to injury. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

It was a gritty performance in tricky wet conditions and it proved they could grind it out against more physical opponents.

“Mike has been brilliant,” said Bennett. “People say we have been playing some great rugby but our set-piece has been excellent too. We are playing what is in front of us. We have got some great rugby players who can do that.”

Speaking before the match, Blair said Bennett was really enjoying his rugby this season, something he hadn’t been doing for a while. It’s no secret that Edinburgh were more reluctant to move the ball wide under previous coach Richard Cockerill and Blair’s more expansive style suits their creative players.

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Edinburgh's James Lang is tackled by the Bulls' Chris Smith. Lang was also injured in the 17-10 win. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

Bennett’s form is reminding supporters of the ability which earned him a nomination for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2015.

“I am playing some really good rugby and I think I am a better all-round player now,” said the 28-year-old. “I am a better defender and I am a bit smarter in the way I am playing, so I will just do what I can if I am picked.

“You are seeing more of me now in positions where I am good – in the wide channels, taking people on. I am enjoying that. It was tough for an outside centre to really influence games last season. It is tough going when you are not getting the ball.”

Bennett last pulled on the dark blue in 2018 as a replacement against Canada and the USA.

Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt suffered a shoulder injury against the Bulls. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

“It has been a long time,” he said. “I got a late call-up to the summer tour a few years ago, but I don’t think I have been in an original Scotland squad for five years, so I was chuffed.

“It has been a while but I have been working hard and I am getting to do more of what I am good at now.”

Bennett and Edinburgh were made to work for the win against the Bulls. They had led 14-3 at the break thanks to Henry Immelman’s try and three Jaco van der Walt penalties but they lost the stand-off to a shoulder injury. James Lang moved from 12 to 10 but had to off with a groin issue, leaving Bennett to assume place-kicking duties after a converted try from Marcell Coetzee had brought the Bulls back into the game.

“Everybody else was broken so it was last resort and I kicked like an absolute clown in the warm-up,” he said. “Luckily they don’t count so I did it when it mattered.”

Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Immelman. Pens: van der Walt 3, Bennett.

Bulls: Try: Coetzee. Con: Steyn. Pen: Smith.

Edinburgh: Henry Immelman; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, James Lang (Ben Vellacott 70), Damien Hoyland; Jaco van der Walt (James Johnstone 40), Charlie Shiel; Pierre Schoeman (Boan Venter 76), Stuart McInally (Dave Cherry 61), Luan de Bruin (WP Nel 49), Marshall Sykes (Pierce Phillips 49), Grant Gilchrist (c), Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie (Connor Boyle 73), Viliame Mata (Mesu Kunavula 65).

Bulls: David Kriel (Lionel Mapoe 65); Madosh Tambwe, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Chris Smith (Morne Steyn 57), Embrose Papier (Marco Jansen van Vuren 52); Lizo Gqoboka (Simphiwe Matanzima 59), Bismarck du Plessis (Schalk Erasmus 65), Mornay Smith (Robert Hunt 40), Janko Swanepoel (Walt Steenkamp 52), Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (c), Arno Botha, Muller Uys (Elrigh Louw 40).

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Attendance: 6,002.

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