Mark Bennett ready for challenge ahead
With professional rugby planning for a resumption towards the end of this month, competition for places in the squads of both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors is arguably more intense than ever before.
In what seems like an age since the clubs took to the pitch for live action, all eyes will be firmly fixed on BT Murrayfield for two derby matches that could prove crucial in the race for the Guinness PRO14 title.
Edinburgh have a stable of centre options from which to choose, with Scotland international Mark Bennett hoping to be involved from the off against his former club. Speaking after a recent return to training, he said: “We’ve got a lot of boys competing for places. It’s good to see Chris Dean back fit again after a sore one he took in pre-season last year, so he missed most of last season. George Taylor’s done really well this year, he’s come on from playing two games or something to be involved in all bar one or two this season. Matt Gordon, who’s our new centre from London Scottish – he’s a big laddie, so there’s real good competition in there for the number 12 shirt.
“Then myself and JJ [James Johnstone] are competing for 13. One thing that’s been exciting is that Matt Currie [Watsonians’ Super6] has been in training with us. He’s been excellent and he’s looking really sharp in training so I think there’s a hell of a lot of potential coming from him as well.”
With games set to come thick and fast for Edinburgh, who also have a European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final with Bordeaux to negotiate, Bennett says that socially-distanced training has got players up to speed as best they can, adding: “The first four weeks, when we were in for voluntary training, was tough going. You had a little booth by yourself to do weights, everything blocked off, couldn’t see anybody else and then out on the pitch you had to be 17 metres apart or whatever it was, so that was strange.
“When you’re used to being around everybody, even just gym sessions chatting to the boys in between sets and having a bit of craic, there was none of that so yeah, it was different but to be fair to the lads, off the back of it we’re in good shape and ready to go for another season.
“It’s going to be a long year, going from this season pretty much rolling into the next. This block of training has been a weird one because we’re trying to get up to speed to take on Glasgow and obviously try and push on to the semi-finals and the knockout stages of Europe as well but at the same time you’re needing to get the training in to last for the season we’re about to go into as well.”
Should he face Bordeaux in that Challenge Cup knockout game, Bennett won’t have to deal with the serious threats posed by hulking Fijian star Semi Radradra, who has since moved on the Bristol Bears.
It’s a relief that is not lost on Bennett, or his dad, as he explained: “Absolutely delighted!
“I got a text off my Dad the day that the dates got announced for the Bordeaux game saying ‘you must be delighted you won’t have to take him on again?’ so it’s nice when your old boy shows confidence in you!”
With an opportunity for Bennett and his Edinburgh team to pick up what was a very promising campaign prior to lockdown, the 27-year-old may well be on the end of one or two more texts from home that he can reply to with even more delight.