Belfast Telegraph

Bent keen to force his way back into Ireland reckoning

By Cian Tracey

It was a conversation with Graham Henry during pre-season that really reassured Michael Bent that he was still on the right path. No sooner had Bent arrived in Ireland four years ago than he was parachuted into the international squad for the November series, but his career trajectory, in the green shirt at least, has somewhat stalled since then.

The New Zealander turns 31 this year but he need only look to his fellow tight-head prop Mike Ross to see what can be achieved in the latter stages of your career.

Ross has struggled with a serious hamstring injury this season which ordinarily would have opened the door for Bent but for the rapid emergence of Tadhg Furlong.

Furlong was immense against the All Blacks in November and Bent was suitably impressed.

"He certainly went very well," Bent said. "He definitely took a step up in those games. He's done very well. He's always been a good, skilful player and quite dynamic. I thought he went to another level in those games so good on him."

Despite Furlong's form, Bent has featured regularly for Leinster this season. Ross is set to remain on the sidelines while Furlong will soon be out of the equation when he links up with Ireland for the Six Nations at the end of the month, which will open the door for Bent once again.

"I'm happy the way that I have been going," he maintained. "There are a few areas that I have been working quite hard on. Getting a good amount of game time and playing week to week is a big thing and is hugely important for myself to keep my confidence up.

"Rossy has been out for a few weeks so that's given me the opportunity to get a good few games in a row. Tadhg will be out with Ireland in the games coming up so it will be an opportunity for myself.

"Younger guys like Jeremy (Loughman) and Heff (Oisin Heffernan) will be pushing hard."

Competition for places in the Leinster front-row has never been as tough but Bent is an Ireland international who still harbours ambitions of adding to the four caps he has won.

To get back into Joe Schmidt's plans, Bent would have to overtake Furlong, Ross, Finlay Bealham and John Ryan in the pecking order but if he can get a consistent run of games with Leinster and maintain his form he isn't ruling out a return to the international set-up.

"I'm always hopeful of that," Bent insisted.

"I'm always working hard to firstly get back playing with Leinster and always in the back of my mind will be pushing even further to get back in with the Ireland team.

"There are a lot of good tight-heads floating around at the moment so it's not a given by any means. I've got to work extra hard but it's always in the back of my mind to keep working hard for that."

Bent has featured 11 times for Leinster this season which has played a major role in him rediscovering his confidence.

But that conversation with Henry also reminded him of what it was that got him to this point in his career.

"I had a chat with him and just talked about what he would be looking for from a tight-head.," he said.

"He's a brilliant coach so it was a bit of a boost to the squad to have him come in. Just the way that he presents things. For me personally I got a bit of clarity out of a few ideas from him. I see him in quite a high light."

Like most Kiwis growing up, Bent always admired what Henry achieved in the game.

Now he is hoping that 'Ted's' wise words will help him get another chance on the international stage.

Belfast Telegraph

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