MARK Bennett has had to endure some trying times since joining Edinburgh in the summer of 2017, and largely because of injury has only rarely played at his best. But, after a full pre-season, he is fully fit and firing on all cylinders, as he showed in his team’s 50-15 win over Zebre on Saturday night.
There will be tougher opponents over the course of the PRO14 season, but if Bennett plays as he did against the Italians he will be a threat to any defence in the league.
“I’m chuffed with that,” said the 26-year-old after his hat-trick of tries – his first, he reckoned, since his days playing club rugby for Cumnock. “It’s been a long time coming – it’s about time I put in a performance for Edinburgh, so I’m as much relieved as I am chuffed. I’ve been shite for two years.
“I just want to play. I’m just happy to be back out there and running about. We created plenty chances, we made plenty errors, but it’s the first game of the season and we scored 50 points, so we’ve got to be happy with that.”
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Bennett had revealed a couple of weeks ago that Edinburgh planned to play a more expansive game this season, and we saw that plan come to fruition at Murrayfield as Matt Scott and Duhan van der Merwe, among others, were allowed to express their attacking instincts. Zebre have been difficult opponents for Richard Cockerill’s team in the past – they only lost by a point on their last visit to the capital, and won well the last time the teams met in Parma – and on this occasion, too, they were difficult to break down. But the self-belief shown by Edinburgh was crucial, as Bennett explained.
“They’re a really hard team to play against. They fly off the line in defence and it’s not easy at times, but during the week we said just stick to what we do, and if we do our own roles well we’ll create chances. And we did create chances – and we took plenty of them. It was a pretty strong performance.”
With back-three players Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn due to come back into the reckoning after the World Cup, there is now clearly a closer balance between the abilities of the backs and the pack than there has been for some time. “We’ve got a team out there that look like they’re enjoying playing rugby,” Cockerill said. “Probably at the end of last year from a backs point of view we were a bit stodgy. We’ve hopefully tried to solve that.
“Mark’s been injured for two years. He’s had a full pre-season, he’s fully fit, and we’re starting to see the quality that he has. We play a system that gets the best out of his skill set.”