Scotland U20s rugby: Mark Bennett returns with Scotland U20s after six-month recovery

ANOTHER highly-rated young Scot, Mark Bennett, will take his first steps on what he hopes will be the same kind of journey enjoyed by Stuart Hogg when he returns to the Scotland under-20 side this week.

Bennett made his debut for the team last year, aged just 18, and was neck-and-neck with Hogg in the race to become Scotland’s first teenage cap. But the Ayr centre quit the elite development squad at Glasgow to take up a full professional deal with French champions Clermont Auvergne, only to suffer an anterior cruciate injury in August.

The youngster has worked his way back to full fitness and started his first game last weekend, for Clermont under-20s against Lyon, and duly marked it with a try. Scotland under-20s coach Peter Wright has no hesitation in putting him straight into his side for Friday’s game with Ireland U20s in Athlone (7.05pm).

“Mark’s been out for the whole season pretty much but he played on Sunday and he’s come through that game really well,” Wright said. “He really strengthens the side and brings something a bit extra to it.

“His involvement with the under-20s at the World Cup last year means he knows the guys and he’s an easy-going lad and a good team player. I’ve no concerns at all that he can fit right in with a settled group.”

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Bennett takes over from former Ayr team-mate Robbie Fergusson at outside centre, Fergusson replacing Jack Bradford on the bench.

Tommy Allan, the nephew of former Scotland and Springboks hooker John, returns from Western Province duty to take over the full-back reins with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne back with the Scotland 7s squad.

In the pack, Edinburgh’s elite development prop Robin Hislop returns and Dundee lock Andrew Redmayne wins a first start of this year’s championship, Stirling pair Jamie Bhatti and Adam Sinclair moving to the bench.

Like the senior team, the young Scots have failed to win a match in this year’s championship but have shown improvement and, under impressive skipper Harry Leonard, should take new confidence from the way in which they came back from a nervy start to run a strong France side of full-time pros very close at Netherdale.

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Wright knows this will be another tough exercise for the Scots but believes he has a team capable of repeating the win by the Scots six years ago when the sides met at Dubarry Park in Athlone.

He added: “For me, this is one of the hardest games of the championship. Ireland are a very strong side, they are at home and they are aiming for a Grand Slam – that’s a big challenge for us.

“But, barring Scott Steele, who is staying with his club [Leicester], we have strength and depth through the first XV and into the subs.

“We have guys who can come off the bench and make a real difference; guys that can change the game. That’s a really good sign of the strength of the squad.”