MARK Bennett’s injury-hit career has been dealt another setback with the news that he is expected to be out of action for several months with hamstring damage. The 25-year-old suffered the injury while playing in Edinburgh’s defeat by Ulster last Friday, and although a definitive prognosis is not yet known, head coach Richard Cockerill appeared all but certain on Monday that the centre’s absence will be a lengthy one.
“He’ll have a scan today, so we’ll know in the next 24 hours, but clearly it’s something quite significant,” Cockerill said. “The extent of that we don’t know yet.
“He’s on crutches. At the moment we think – it’s yet to be confirmed – that he has ruptured his hamstring at the very top. Similar to the one Tom Brown had last year. If it is completely ruptured it is a serious injury. If it is what we think it is, it will be months.
“I feel very sorry for Mark, because he missed half of last season and now he’s probably going to miss a big chunk of this year. Thankfully it’s nothing to do with his knees,” Cockerill continued, referring to previous injuries of Bennett’s which required surgery. “People recover from hamstring issues and, as severe as this one is, he will hopefully be fit for the New Year, give or take – we’ll see.”
The incident in Belfast which caused this latest injury has been the subject of some controversy, as Bennett was cleared out of a ruck by an Ulster playing using a so-called croc roll, in which the opponent’s body is twisted in the tackle. However, Cockerill insisted the injury was caused by misfortune, not malice.
“Mark is over the ball, one guys tries to clean him and does not quite get him and then he gets cleaned again and gets caught with his leg straight and got bent into a position where he got past his flexibility. Something had to give and it was his hamstring. Nothing wrong with the clean-out – it was unfortunate, purely bad luck.”
“It’s just one of those. . . It’s nothing to do with his knees – he just got caught over the ball and he was in a poor position and unfortunately. . .
“His knees are fine. Whoever put the grafts in did a good job, because the hamstring went before his knees did.”
Besides being a personal tribulation for Bennett, the injury will have a disruptive effect on Cockerill’s team-building. Just as Henry Pyrgos and Simon Hickey are developing an understanding at half-back, so Bennett and inside centre Matt Scott were rekindling a partnership that first emerged on Scotland duty several years ago.
“I thought it was starting to develop. That was the best they’ve played together – Matt was good last week but outstanding on Friday; his ball-carrying and defence were very, very good and solid.
“He made some good line breaks and he’s shown some really good form and Mark was working well off him and had some good involvements in that first 20 minutes. Unfortunately that’s going to be now probably three or four months before we see it again.”
Error count still too high
While ascribing the hamstring damage to bad luck, Cockerill was disinclined to put his team’s 30-29 loss down to the same factor. Lack of composure, he insisted, had been a critical element in the loss, as had an error count which, although lower than the previous week against Ospreys, was still too high.
“I thought we played really well. We got into new territory on Friday. We went to a good team and instead of going behind and clawing our way back in, we actually played really well and took the lead.
“I think we surprised ourselves. Every team is going to have its parts in the game; we knew Ulster would come back and have an opportunity at some point and they did. Regardless of that I thought we did enough to win it – catch the kick-off [after Hickey had put Edinburgh 29-27 ahead with an 80th-minute penalty] and you win the game. “We have to learn to play against good sides – play well, be in the lead, and for want of a better word not shit ourselves and let them back into the equation.
“Even when we went behind the momentum was well against us, but we kept into the game and got back into the lead. We could easily have won that game. I’m not going to blame the referee – I think he made a poor decision at the end of the game [to award Ulster the winning penalty], very marginal, but we need to make sure we do our things better, so that we’re not relying on an official in the 82nd minute falling our way. We can be better than that.
Edinburgh taken seriously
“There’s 20 things in the game where you make small errors. One in isolation’s fine, but you add 15 to 20 together and then it becomes a bigger problem. We turned the ball over 13 times, which is eight less than the week before, so it’s an improvement. We gave away seven penalties and unfortunately they kicked them, but seven in the game is very good. I thought the team played very well. But we have to learn. “Nothing’s fixed in 14 or 15 months, but I still think we’re a better side now than this time last year and we’re a better side now than the one that finished the season. Teams aren’t underestimating us. When teams play us… Ospreys, full bore with their selection, Ulster full bore with their selection. You don’t normally see that, do you?, when they play Edinburgh, because it’s an easy target.
“So we’ve got to realise that every time we play people will put their best team out knowing that if they don’t they run the risk of getting turned over. So we wanted respect, we’ve got it, now we have to deal with making sure we play better so that we deal with the consequences of teams taking us more seriously.”