Sunday 21 January 2018

Bent hoping for Ireland recall but is keeping main focus on Leinster

Michael Bent of Leinster. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Michael Bent of Leinster. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

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.

As soon as Bent had arrived in the country four years ago he was parachuted into the Ireland squad for the November internationals but his career trajectory, on the international front at least, has somewhat stalled since then.

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

Ross has struggled with a serious hamstring injury this season which ordinarily would have opened the door for Bent but the rapid emergence of Tadhg Furlong has meant that, by and large, he has had to make do with a place on the bench.

Furlong was immense against the All Blacks in November and Bent was suitably impressed by how he acquitted himself against his home country.

"He certainly went very well," Bent says.

"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 certainly thought he went to another level in those games so good on him."

Dynamic

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 certainly happy the way that I have been going," he maintains. "There are a few areas that I have been working quite hard on. Certainly getting a good amount of game time and consistently 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 which has been good for my game.

"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 too."

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.

Scrummaging against the likes of Jack McGrath and Cian Healy in training certainly helps and although there is very much a front-row union in Leinster, that is put to one side during the rigorous sessions.

"We all get on but certainly in a scrum session, there's no taking a backward step for anyone. It's important to put yourself in the best light so everyone is out to get the most out of the session. Go as hard as you possibly can.

"You do get to know the guys and what their strengths and weaknesses are within the squad. It's certainly important to be coming up against different oppositions.

"Scrums will attack in a different way and we have to be wary of that."

Consistent To get back into 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.

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

"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 tightheads 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, as he explains:

"I had a chat with him and just talked about what he would be looking for from a tighthead.

"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.

Irish Independent

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