Scotland are having an awful Six Nations in 2015, despite impressive performances from Mark Bennett.
Early promise was evident in their matches against France and Wales, but both games ended in defeat for Vern Cotter’s side.
Then they were undone by their old nemesis Italy, who took sweet revenge for Scotland’s last gasp win in Rome 12 months ago by grinding their way to a late victory in Edinburgh. That’s seven wins for the Italians over Scotland in Six Nations history, and the latter now have the sole aim of trying to avoid the wooden spoon.
This looks a nigh-on impossible task with a visit to Twickenham next and tournament favourites Ireland still to come.
What they must hold on to is the fact that—their dreadful showing against the Azzurri aside—there are signs combinations in certain areas are showing real promise and there are now threats where once there was just a mass of stodgy, stifled, risk-averse rugby.
In Blair Cowan, they have a genuine openside flanker who shone in Paris and against Wales with his turnover ability. He was—as were the rest of the Scottish pack—far less effective against Italy.
However, he is pipped to the accolade of "Biggest Success" by outside centre Bennett, with reasons for this selection listed below.
1. Beating Bastareaud
In Paris, Bennett made his Six Nations bow and was not overawed by the occasion at all. The Glasgow Warriors man got past his illustrious opponent Mathieu Bastareaud and played a key role in the move that led to the Scots' try.
According to The Rugby Blog: "After a quiet first two caps, Bennett shone in Paris, able to glide round his opposite number Bastareaud and making a telling contribution as he cut an angle and off-loaded to Hogg for Scotland’s try."
2. Dovetailing well with club-mates
The Glasgow Warriors heart of this Scotland back line features Finn Russell, Alex Dunbar and Bennett, and the trio are capable of doing damage—as they have shown against France and Wales. Dunbar heaped praise on midfield stablemate Bennett in the Daily Mail, which was picked up by the RBS 6 Nations website:
"Mark has come in and he's really exciting in attack; he's doing good things and, for us, now it's trying to get the right combinations within the back line and knowing when it's on to have a go and when to slow it down, then play for a bit more territory.
"You learn the more you play together and, with Mark, I just try to keep up, to read his run as early as possible.
"He can create something out of nothing, so it's all about getting the ball to the strike runner, whether it's Mark or Hoggy (Stuart Hogg) or whoever, as early as possible to give them an opportunity."
3. Living with Lions
Bennett couldn’t ask for a tougher test in his first Six Nations than to face the centre pair who finished the last Lions Test together, and that’s who he met when Wales came to town, with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in harness.
According to the Scottish Rugby Blog, the newcomer to the tournament more than held his own and showed again why the understanding built at Glasgow under Gregor Townsend will pay dividends for the national side: "[Bennett] built on Paris display by giving Davies a tough time in defence, [and his] familiarity of Glasgow midfield nearly led to scoring chances."
4. A ray of light amid the darkness
The gloom at Murrayfield was almost tangible after Scotland’s defeat to Italy in Round 3, but Bennett was perhaps the one man who could be proud of his efforts.
He picked off an interception try early in the game, underlining his speed of thought and foot. He made more metres with ball in hand than anyone else on the field (101), made two clean breaks, beat four defenders and forced two turnovers, per ESPNScrum.
There was definitely nothing wrong with his work rate.