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Six Nations 2022: ‘No excuses’ for Scots not to perform in crunch Rome game, believes Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett is back in the Scotland picture after a four-year absence.
Mark Bennett is back in the Scotland picture after a four-year absence.

There really are no excuses for Scotland not to perform to the best of their ability, Mark Bennett has discovered since returning to the international set-up.

The 29-year-old admitted that he had a passing thought that his Scotland career might be over after 22 caps, the last in 2018.

He’s suffered serious injury – he was out for almost a year after a knee went during the 2017 Calcutta Cup game. Then a style of play at Edinburgh that didn’t quite fit his philosophy of the game meant he struggled to get noticed.

‘I stuck to my guns’

“The fire was always there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t doubt myself,” he said as the Scots prepare for their meeting with Italy in Rome. “There were plenty of times I probably did think I was done internationally. But I stuck to my guns and here we are.”

With Mike Blair loosening shackles on back play for the capital club this season Bennett has thrived again. His superb form won him an international recall and he got back on the pitch for his 23rd cap as a second half replacement against France.

“Over the last few years this is something I’ve been gunning for and not been able to achieve,” he said. “Against France for me was incredible, just to be back out there, and I absolutely loved it. If I get the opportunity again this weekend it’s one I’ll savour.”

Bennett’s well placed to spot the differences between the old and new regimes with Scotland, having last been involved in 2018. But some things stay just the same.

“It was just one of these ones where you haven’t seen guys for a while, but nothing changes,” he said. “They’re exactly the same as they’ve always been. I’ve played with Hoggy for years, I’ve played with Jonny (Gray) since I was 13-14 years old.

“It was just great seeing them again, really nice getting to catch up with them off the field. On the field it was just the same as always.”

‘We’ve been given everything we need’

But there is a different mood in the camp to his previous time, and he believes it represents all a player could ask for.

“We’ve been given everything that we need, anything at all, it’s here,” he said. “We’ve got a great set-up here in camp and the onus is on us to make sure we’re ready to do what we do.

“There is everything we need to be in the best place to play a game at the weekend. There are really no excuses.

“I’ve actually found it very relaxed here. It’s a case of letting players do what they need to do, in terms of off the field. That lets you stay in your normal routine rather than coming into camp thinking, ‘I need to do this or that’.

“It lets you be yourself and do what you need to do.”

For Bennett, that’s always been approaching the game with an attacking mindset.

“It’s been a good season for me, we’ve played some exciting rugby at Edinburgh,” he said. “I think that’s given me the opportunities to be me. That’s what you saw second half against France, I got the ball and I was just doing what I do.

“The opportunities (before at Edinburgh) were more limited and I had to adapt the way I played to suit. I did that and I gave my all. It just meant I didn’t get too many chances to do what I do best.”

‘He does defend bloody well’

Defence is not Bennett’s particular speciality, like his rival for the 13 shirt Chris Harris.

“It’s a part of my game which is not the most natural,” he conceded. “I know I can defend well but it’s not a super-strength of mine like it is for Chris.

“But the one thing I will say is that I’ve never really worked with Chris up until now and he does defend bloody well. It’s been brilliant to train alongside him and learn from him.

“He’s never ever stressed. He’s always calm and under control, even when there are bombs going off round about him.

“That’s been something that would be good for me, because I can be quite jumpy when it gets that way. I like to try and solve things quickly whereas Chris is really calm and takes it all in his stride.”

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