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Bennett will grasp chance - Cotter


Scotland's Richie Gray, right, has been selected alongside his brother

Scotland's Richie Gray, right, has been selected alongside his brother

Scotland's Richie Gray, right, has been selected alongside his brother

Vern Cotter knew Mark Bennett was international class as soon as he saw the new Scotland cap battle back from a devastating knee injury.

The Glasgow centre has long been tipped as a future star for the Dark Blues, but will finally make his bow for the national team when they take on Argentina at Murrayfield this Saturday.

However, the 21-year-old nearly saw his international dreams crumble during a year-long stint in France with Clermont Auvergne.

New Scotland chief Cotter was head coach at the Top 14 outfit when they lured Bennett away from the Warriors - only to then see him tear his anterior cruciate ligament soon after checking in at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.

Bennett, though, gritted his teeth before fighting back to fitness and form after returning to Scotstoun, prompting Cotter to reward the Glasgow back was a starting slot against the Pumas this weekend.

The New Zealander - who has also paired brothers Richie and Jonny Gray together for the first time in the second row - said: "Mark didn't have it very easy at the start of his time in France. He was just 17 and it was his first time away from home. but that was when we saw that he had something.

"He picked up a serious injury soon after, though. It required a complete knee reconstruction. For a player whose strength lies in changing direction and accelerating quickly, it was devastating.

"But the way he has bounced back is a reflection of the man - quiet and determined.

"He shouldn't feel any expectation on his shoulders. He has players around him who he is comfortable with and he will only be focusing on playing well.

"I'm pleased for him and I'm looking forward to seeing him in action on Saturday. I know he will grasp this opportunity with both hands."

The injury was a crushing blow to Bennett's hopes of breaking into the former Heineken Cup finalists' first team.

But the Cumnock-born centre found a silver lining from under his dark cloud.

Bennett explained: "The injury set me back and, even once I'd recovered, I wasn't quite as quick or agile as I'd been before, so I had to develop other parts of my game to counter that.

"My distribution game has improved as a result and I can read the game a bit better now as well.

"Going to France was a big opportunity for me. It was a chance to put myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe if the injury had not happened, it might have worked out very different."

Clermont's loss was Glasgow's gain. His performances in helping the Warriors climb to the upper reaches of the Guinness Pro12 have proved the rave reviews he received as a teenager were merited.

But, despite having the tag of being Scotland's next big thing hanging over him, Bennett does not feel the extra weight of expectation sitting heavy on his shoulders.

He said: "The pressure which comes from outside doesn't really bother me. I've got my own expectations and goals and that is what is driving me on."

Bennett is one of 10 Glasgow men selected to face the Argentinians in the opening autumn Test - and Cotter's first at home - with Jonny Gray another.

Over the past 140 years, 21 sets of siblings have played together for Scotland - with the Grays now ready to become the 22nd on the list.

Both have already appeared for their country but, incredibly this will be the first time that 25-year-old Richie - a British and Irish Lion with 39 caps for Scotland - and his five-cap little brother Jonny, aged 20, will have ever played together.

Gray the elder, however, has promised not to let the emotion of the occasion distract him as Scotland kick off their 10-month build-up to next year's World Cup.

"It will be a very special moment," Castres lock Richie said. "It was quite surreal when our names were read out in the squad announcement.

"There's been quite a lot said since then about whether we would play together but, while it is a big thing for the family, it's just important we focus on doing our own roles for the team."

Like Bennett, Jonny has been long been regarded as another of Gregor Townsend's 'ones to watch' at Glasgow.

But the youngster admits he has much to thank his brother for, explaining: "Watching Rich growing up, I've been able to see first hand how hard he had to work, not just on the pitch but off it.

"So I knew what was required. There were no excuses."