Mark Bennett is hoping that his reunion with old Scotland mate Matt Scott in the Edinburgh midfield can prove a fruitful one this season but, more importantly, is eager to chalk up a first Guinness Pro14 win of the season at Ulster tomorrow after the opening loss at Ospreys.
Coach Richard Cockerill, who names his team at noon today for the trip to Belfast, has other centre options but the return of Scott from two seasons at Gloucester and Bennett’s recovery from a long-term knee injury has many viewing the Scotland Test duo as the Capital side’s prime attacking axis this term.
“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,” said Bennett. “So, we know each other well and we’re still getting used to each other again, but we went alright before so here’s hoping.”
Scott and Bennett were the main Scotland centre pairing at the 2015 World Cup but, until this pre-season, hadn’t actually started a game together since the 2016 Calcutta Cup clash. Former Glasgow man Bennett believes both have matured as rugby players since then.
“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 is which is good.
“I think we’re playing smarter than we were, which is half the battle isn’t it? You want conserve your energy and do things as efficiently as possible.”
Bennett missed Glasgow’s historic Pro12 title win at the Kingspan Stadium in 2015 with a shoulder injury but has plenty of tussles with Ulster down the years and was impressed with the start they made under former Scotland forwards coach Dan McFarland, beating Scarlets at home.
“They’re a very physical side,” said the centre. “They got a good win at the weekend, so their tails will be up.
“They off-loaded the ball a heck of a lot, 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, so it’s a huge challenge, but it’s a great place to go and play.”
Bennett has enjoyed having his former Scotstoun colleague Henry Pyrgos joining him across the M8 this season, along with other additions to the backline.
“Henry brings a lot of experience at nine,” he said.
“He’s sharp around the base and very calm and controlling which is good. [Stand-off] Simon Hickey’s looked really sharp and again knows exactly what he wants, which is what you want 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 [to Ulster], but we are still learning.
“As a backline 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.”