Leinster refuse to give up hope of Bent revival
Feek believes 'loosehead could be option' to revive forgotten Ireland import, writes David Kelly
It seems like only yesterday that Michael Bent was having a shamrock stamped on his chest and a sliotar stuck in his hand in the most bizarre display of forced faux Irishness since Tom Cruise destroyed the Irish accent in 'Far and Away.'
Despite his Irish lineage – his maternal grandmother hailed from Rathmines – the 26-year-old ex-Taranaki front-rower wasn't exactly showered with a thousand welcomes.
Keith Wood led the charge with a declamatory yowl: "How in the name of Jesus are we getting to the point where a guy flies into the country and he will play for Ireland?"
Initially, Bent appeared to skew the perceptions; starting for Ireland before lining out for Leinster, he thieved a penalty from South Africa's Heinke van der Merwe; the Irish camp subtly planted lines that Mike Ross was gulping for air.
A month later, however, and the same Bent was being concertinaed by an Academy loosehead in Galway and, most damningly, by Tom Court, another Antipodean-turned-Ireland international, who he had so spectacularly usurped in the November squad.
Since then, Bent has quietly slipped off the radar.
Last Friday, as Leinster won European silverware in front of the bright lights and the huge audience, Bent was also winning a medal, albeit in the less rarefied confines of the B&I Cup.
From a position seven months ago where he was expected to challenge Ross for a starting berth in green, Bent (pictured below) won't even tour with Ireland this summer.
International Rugby Newsletter
Instead, he will be asked to confront the latest collection of grizzly Georgian monsters in Tbilisi for 'Emerging Ireland' in June; let us just say that, as he slumps to around fifth or sixth-choice tighthead for his adopted country, this ain't the glamorous life he signed up for.
An indigenous tighthead, Jamie Hagan, has been promoted ahead of him for Leinster and, by dint of touring North America, Ireland as well, just as he is preparing to walk out on Irish rugby and pitch in with London Irish.
It will be curious to see whether Joe Schmidt will slavishly persist with the prevailing official stance that "out of sight means out of mind", especially now that his first-choice out-half is domiciled in Paris.
"Jamie wanted more game time," says Leinster and Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek. "We got him knowing he had potential to go further. Sometimes you've got to go backwards to come forwards. Jamie is a good case.
"Maybe, if he was a bit more patient he might still be here. We weren't going to hold him back. It is important for a tighthead to be playing week in, week out. We could understand that.
"You can see that he's certainly come on. It is a massive credit to him in terms of the work he has put in. He has been massive on his extras. His habits are really good.
"You never know what will happen. It is not going to be easy for him over there. It is just a shame for Leinster that we lose someone we've put a lot of work into.
"You want to make the player better. This is a position where it doesn't happen overnight. If they are prepared to put the work in and they have the right attitude, like Jamie has shown, then they work away.
"He has got physical attributes that he has worked on hard. That doesn't happen by just sitting on the couch eating popcorn."
Feek, the most prominent person in terms of recruiting Bent, remains confident that there is room for development for the former Hurricanes prop also, as he and Hagan jostle for selection behind Ross this weekend.
Given the traditional late developments of tightheads, Feek is not worried about Bent's progress; his adaptability to play loosehead, where he once won a Ranfurly Shield, may also be a bonus in time.
"If you look at Jamie's situation, he came in and you didn't really see him for the first year," explains Feek.
"Benty has been able to float in and out. He was a part of the winning B&I Cup team at the weekend against a probable Premiership team.
"I think it was better for him to play in that and experience that. He played 80 minutes and there was 20 minutes of extra-time.
"These things take time. There are different elements over here for him. He is around 117kg; Jamie is around 123kg, so there is a big way for him to go if he wants to make the next step.
"But, I think he has got a lot of other attributes already in place. Hopefully, we can grow him and the same thing might happen.
"He played a lot of loosehead before he came over. He played tighthead and loosehead. To be chucked in and just told, right you are tighthead ... loosehead could be an option."