Bennett aims to build on burgeoning partnership with Scott

The midfield pairing have a central role to play for Edinburgh this season

Mark Bennett
Mark Bennett does not intend to be a man apart at Edinburgh and is looking forward to linking up with Matt Scott in the capital outfit's midfield this season ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

A PARTNERSHIP that could be vital to Edinburgh’s success this season got off to a muted start last week when the team lost to Ospreys in Wales. But Mark Bennett is hopeful that once he and Matt Scott become reacquainted on the pitch, they can help Richard Cockerill’s side kick on further from the form that took them into the PRO14 play-offs last season.

Bennett has been with Edinburgh a year now, while Scott has just returned to the side after two years with Gloucester. They last formed a midfield duo on national duty was at the start of the 2016 Six Nations, soon after Bennett had been shortlisted for World Rugby’s Emerging Player of the Year award and Scott was starting out on his sojourn in England’s West Country.

Two and a half years on, the pair are smarter and stronger, while having lost none of their cutting edge, leading Bennett to be confident that they have a major role to play for Edinburgh. “I think we’re both different players from when we played together before,” he said. “We’re a bit more experienced and he’s very easy to work with, which is good. I think we’re playing smarter than we were, which is half the battle, isn’t it? You want to conserve your energy and do things as efficiently as possible.

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“Matt’s a great player and he’s performed well in these first few games that he’s been back here. He’s carried well, he’s a big powerful guy and defensively he’s been pretty sound. So we know each other well and we’re still getting used to each other again, but we went all right before, so here’s hoping.”

The Edinburgh back line looked under strength and inexperienced at times last season, in part because the medical condition that forced Robbie Fruean into early retirement deprived them of someone who could have been a commanding influence. This year, by contrast, they not only have Bennett and Scott as one pairing, they also have Henry Pyrgos and Simon Hickey at half-back – a combination which offers real wisdom when it comes to game management.

“Henry brings a lot of experience at nine,” Bennett added. “He’s sharp around the base and very calm and controlling, which is good. Simon has looked really sharp and again knows exactly what he wants, which is what you are looking for from your nine and 10. They’re controlling the shape, controlling the game and we’re still learning about each other.

“We’ll get there, but we are still learning. As a back line it was tough at the weekend. [Ospreys] defended really well and got their width and came up hard on the outside, so there wasn’t that much opportunity for us to play. A lot of it was more just heid doon, tuck the ball and go kind of thing, which isn’t exactly how I like to play, but sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and do it.

“It was a funny game. They had all the ball for the first 20 minutes, which is quite tiring when you’re defending for so long, but we did really well to hold them out. It’s one of those ones where we just didn’t quite click and there were a lot of small errors that cost us, a lot of turnover ball and it was tough to get a foothold. I think it was there for the taking, but the real positive thing was that while we didn’t play particularly well, we still had that chance . . .  an opportunity with the last play of the game to win it, so we stuck in and we were there or thereabouts when we didn’t particularly perform well.

“The amount of turnovers we gave has cost us. You can’t give away 21 turnovers and expect to win the game, so it’s just basic things, which is frustrating. So we’ve done a bit of work on it out there today and I’m sure that will continue this week. But I don’t think it’s anything major, it’s just switching on a mindset.

“There’s a lot of simple fixes there. We got stripped five or six times, which, don’t get me wrong, was good play by Ospreys – they’d obviously been working on that, because they were very, very good at it – but at the same time it was poor by us to allow that to happen. So, it’s things that we can change easily in a week. It wasn’t the ideal start, but it’s definitely not the end of the world.”

While Edinburgh lost 17-13 to Ospreys, Ulster, who they play on Friday night in Belfast, beat Scarlets 15-13. The home team will be favourites to make it two out of two in the PRO14, and although former Scotland assistant coach Dan McFarland has not been in charge there long enough to make much of a difference, Bennett knows his team can expect a tough encounter.

“Bearing in mind he’s only been there a couple of weeks, there’s only so many things he can change. He’s going to make an influence. He’s a great coach, so it’s maybe a good thing we’re getting them early doors. I think he’ll have a huge influence over there. Yeah, he knows how we like to play, but at the end of the day it’s all fine and well knowing things, but it’s about putting it into practice on the park.

“They got a good win at the weekend, so their tails will be up. They seemed to be playing slightly different from the last few years. They offloaded the ball a heck of a lot, especially in the first half at the weekend. I think it was something like 17 offloads they threw, so not only have they got that real physical side to the game, they’re starting to try to play a bit more. It’s a huge challenge, especially over there, but it’s a great place to go and play.”

  • Ulster v Edinburgh will be live on Premier Sports 1 this Friday at 7.35pm – click HERE to find out more and subscribe 

That was the month that was: August 2018


About Stuart Bathgate 1427 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.