Mark Bennett gets set to celebrate 100th Edinburgh appearance

"I'm a much rugby player than when I was through west," ex-Glasgow centre says as he prepares to become the capital club's latest centurion

Mark Bennett
Mark Bennett will make his 100th appearance for Edinburgh in Friday's URC game at home to Ospreys. Image:© Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

WHEN Mark Bennett joined Edinburgh from Glasgow in 2017, it was a surprising and incongruous move for several reasons. Like Duncan Weir, who had made the same switch a year earlier, Bennett was seen as a west-coast man through and through, one who had been committed to the Warriors cause since the start of his professional career. In fact, given his preference for open, running rugby, the centre’s move to the capital made even less sense than Weir’s.

Bennett himself shared those doubts about the wisdom of his move, and his early years at Edinburgh, exacerbated by injuries, were unsettled ones. Seven years on, however, and a crucial change of coaching ethos later, he is happy with where he is both on and off the field.

A man born in Irvine who played in the amateur ranks for Cumnock and Ayr may never fit the stereotype of an Edinburgh player, but the 31-year-old has for some time now been established as one of the most important and dependable members of what is now Sean Everitt’s squad. He will make his 100th appearance for the team against the Ospreys in Friday night’s URC match at the Hive, and earlier this week took time out to reflect on that milestone, and on his ups and downs with his current club.


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“I think it’s a big milestone to get to 100 anywhere,” Bennett said. “When you think about some of the centurions there’s been here, I grew up watching Mossy [Chris Paterson], Fordy [Ross Ford], Mike Blair. When I was a kid these were the guys I was watching on TV. 

“More recently there’s been a load of boys that I’ve come through here with – I’ve played with Deano [current centre Chris Dean] since I was 18, 19 and he’s a centurion here. I’m just proud that I’ve given back the effort the club has given me. Especially the first few years, it wasn’t great for either of us. I barely bloody played, so I’m just chuffed I can give back for that. 

“It’s going to be moments like this [100th appearance] that make those times and all that effort worthwhile. The fact you manage to get to 100 games wherever you are is impressive, but unfortunately for me, as much as I’ll try and pretend I’m tough, I’ve had a few rubbish injuries that have really set me back. That first 18 months I was at Edinburgh, I think I was injured for 12 of them. 

“Moving club, I wanted to come in and make an impact, but I was sat in the physio room for a year. At the time I was doubting what I had, because it had been so long since I’d gone out there and done what I know I can do. And no matter how much you tell yourself ‘I’ve still got this’ you still doubt yourself. 

“I wouldn’t say I doubted where I was, because I had a good life in Edinburgh, I enjoyed my life away from rugby, which is just as important as it is playing and it allows you to do what you do on the pitch. But I think there was moments that I thought ‘Have I still got this?’ and I’ll tell you it was a bloody relief when I started to turn up again.”  

 

 

The frustration caused by those early injuries was worsened by the forward-dominated game plan preferred by then coach Richard Cockerill. Only when Blair took over, in 2021, did Bennett feel the team were playing to his strengths. And although current head coach Sean Everitt has tightened up a couple of aspects of play since succeeding Blair this season, he is now more than happy with the direction in which the team are heading.  

“I was trying to play a style that didn’t particularly work for me,” he recalled of the Cockerill years. “I’m not the biggest man and I was asked to be a straight up-and-down ball-carrier. I’ll do my best, but at that point I was 87kgs and I couldn’t put on weight to save myself. It just doesn’t work.

“When Mike came in, and we started chucking the ball about a bit more, that was when I was me. That was when I found my feet again and you started to see the better of me. 

“And since then that’s just grown and grown. We’re playing a good brand of rugby, we’ve got a great home, we’ve got a great atmosphere here. The buzz around here on game day is great. 

“And I think that all in all the club has taken massive steps forward and it’s now our job to keep building. There’s a good group of boys here who work really bloody hard and we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves a chance of winning something.

“I grew up a west-coaster and it was a big thing for me coming through east, but I’ve really made Edinburgh my home. I love it through here. I love the way we try and play our rugby and I think you’ve seen some of my best rugby whilst I’ve been here. 

“I’m a much better rugby player than I was when I was through west. It’s been great and it’s been nice to see that development and growth – I was going to say maturity, but I’ve not matured that much!” 

 

 

First capped way back in 2014, Bennett last appeared for Scotland in late 2022. The game moves on and he knows that has not been consistently good enough this season to challenge for a place in midfield, but he has no intention just yet of calling it a day after 29 caps. 

“I spoke to Gregor [Townsend] just before the Six Nations, just briefly,” he explained. “He said to me: ‘Look, we’ve not seen the best of you, but we know that on your day you’ve got it in you to be up there. So just when you get your chances, show us what you’ve got.’ That’s all I can do, really.  

“This season I’ve not played as well as I know that I can. That’s just rugby: there’s form, there’s selection – I’m getting pushed by Mattie Currie so I’m maybe not playing as much as I would have – but I just need to keep doing me and believing that on my day I’m good enough to be back there. 

“If that day comes, brilliant, I’ll take it and that’s always the aim. And if it doesn’t come, I’m also satisfied that when I’ve had my opportunities I’ve given my everything. But never say never.”  


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About Stuart Bathgate 1387 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.

1 Comment

  1. Best wishes to Mark and may he have many more matches to come. I have great memories of him playing at Ayr and his participating in the British and Irish Cup for us as a young lad. Quite an introduction to senior rugby for him (a rather topical subject at the moment).

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