BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Scotland’s Mark Bennett has been tipped to take world rugby by storm after being announced on a three-man shortlist for the inaugural ‘Breakthrough Player of the Year’ accolade.
George Gregan, one of the sport’s best-ever players and a World Cup winner with Australia in 1999, helped choose the nominees for the 2015 title and believes Glasgow Warriors centre Bennett can look forward to a ‘bright future’ in the game.
The Ayrshire-born 22-year-old, who scored three World Cup tries in helping inspire Scotland to their quarter-final clash with Australia, is up against New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder and Georgia scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze for the award, with the winner to be revealed at the World Rugby Awards dinner on November 1.
Bennett looked to have secured Scotland a huge shock and unlikely semi-final berth when he intercepted a pass from Wallabies replacement prop James Slipper to run in for a 74th minute try in their gripping last-eight encounter nine days ago.
However, his nomination and the the words of Gregan may now be of some small consolation following that subsequent and heartbreaking 35-34 defeat.
“All three nominees have been outstanding in their own individual performance and shown consistency which has seen them contribute in a huge way to how their teams have performed this year,” said Gregan, who was joined by former Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi and journalists Stephen Jones, Sarah Mockford and Jim Kayes on an independent judging panel.”
Gregan, who is the third most-capped player of all time, having played 139 times for Australia, added: “They are all worthy candidates for this award but unfortunately there can only be one winner.
“I’m sure all three players have a bright future not only for their teams and the countries they play for but for world rugby in general. I really look forward to watching their careers.”
Bennett only made his international debut in November last year, in the 41-31 win over Argentina, but has since amassed 13 caps and six tries, including his three in four appearances at the World Cup.
His attacking potency is revealed by the statistics for the tournament, where he beat 11 defenders in making five clean breaks and carried for a total of 146 metres, but in defence he also had an 83 per cent success rate with his tackling.