Edinburgh's Mark Bennett on 1872 derby, Scotland caps, and Olympic medal pride
1972 derby gives centre chance to prove he is back to his best
From an Olympic medals podium to the surgeon’s knife, Mark Bennett has experienced the swings of high and low in the life of a rugby player in the past few years.
Now back and still only 26, the Edinburgh centre is looking forward to a return to his old Scotstoun stamping ground in tomorrow evening’s first 1872 Cup clash with his former club Glasgow.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said the Ayrshireman, who has 22 Scotland caps and was part of the Great Britain Sevens side which won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I’ve had plenty of great days at Scotstoun and hopefully I am going to have another one this weekend, except in slightly different colours this time. It’s a good place to go and play.
“Last year I came off the bench and got 20 minutes before going off with a knock, so hopefully I can get a fair crack at it this time.
“I’m a west coaster. I grew up in Ayrshire and always supported Glasgow, I have a load of good mates there and there will be plenty of people I know at the game as well, so I’m wanting to get out there and prove myself.
“I wouldn’t say that I want to rub it in, but I want to win – it’s as simple as that.”
After a series of problems with both knees, Bennett is now looking to rebuild a career which started at Glasgow almost a decade ago before he was switched to Edinburgh in 2017.
“There are plenty of positives to have come out of this move and I feel like – after two crap years – I am finding my feet again, and starting to show what I can do, and this weekend is another chance to do that,” said the centre, who scored a memorable late intercept try against Australia at Twickenham in 2015 which so nearly got Scotland into a World Cup semi-final.
“I just want to play. I’ve played more rugby this season so far than I have the last two put together, so for me it is just about backing that up. I’ve had a sore body during the week – I’m not used to playing week-in and week-out – but I’m absolutely loving it.
“If that [Scotland] comes, that comes. It is obviously an aim for me to get back in the Scotland team, but this weekend [against Glasgow] is more important at the minute.
“I’ve barely played any rugby, so it has been crap in terms of when I have got back fit I have not performed to my best, and then when I have started to feel like I am finding my feet I have broken down again.
“Through no fault of my own, either. It is just the way it goes – it is a stupid sport at times!”
Of course, the new year heralds another Olympics, in Tokyo next summer and, while clearly just trying to rebuild a derailed, 15-a-side career, Bennett would relish another chance to pull on a red GB jersey.
He and Mark Robertson were the two Scots in that squad who made it to the Olympic final before losing to Fiji. There were murmurings that the SRU were not best pleased with Bennett’s decision to go to Rio but he has no regrets.
“It was incredible,” he said of that Rio experience. “But it’s a long way away at the moment and I’ve got more pressing matters to deal with.
“The last time I got a phone call in April asking me: ‘Next month, do you want to come?’
“I’ve not heard anything about that [the SRU being miffed]. I’ve not heard anything about the Olympics at all. It’s not been a discussion point.
“[The Olympic medal] in my bedside table. Tucked away but whenever I take it out, I always think: ‘That’s quite cool!’.”