You many wonder why the storm that greeted Michael Bent’s arrival two months ago has withered to a whimper now that he has slipped off the radar. All depends on your agenda I guess. And we all have an agenda.
First, the storm: a heap of Irish rugby people, past players and current fans, were apoplectic in November that an unknown could be parachuted into the Ireland set-up, flying clean over the usual stuff like playing first for an Irish province. Then, with hardly a whimper, and no hostages saved, he is airlifted out again?
The exuberance of youth line is getting out of control. Between Simon Zebo’s rapping and Craig Gilroy’s dancing feet nobody seems a bit put out by the Bent saga. If your agenda is to support the regime through thick and thin then you’d have no interest in pursuing Declan Kidney on how he could justify the operation. If you are more inclined towards regime change, as I am, then you’d be keen on an explanation.
Is it not hard to defend what has happened? Not the turfing out of Bent, having concluded evidently that Declan Fitzpatrick’s five minutes of game time for Ulster in 2013 renders him a better bet off the bench against Wales, rather his inclusion in the first place, for something has gone horribly wrong. And it will look a whole lot worse if Fitzpatrick has to feature earlier than the 65th minute.
I could understand the desperation that drove Kidney towards Bent in the first place. Tight head prop is a wasteland in this country, and with the front row cover extending, in November, to two props on match day, we were no longer able to hide behind the door marked: ‘This fella covers both sides but does one of them pretty poorly.’ Instead we have two lads on hand, and still one of them does his bit pretty poorly.
Kidney would have got away with it if Michael Bent was up to the job. Clearly he isn’t. That puts a bit of heat into the relationship between Greg Feek and Kidney for the Leinster and Ireland scrum coach was the source for Bent coming over here in the first place.
Now, remember that Feek sourced him for Leinster, not Ireland, it’s just that Bent was seconded to national duty when he had barely cleared customs. Mind you, he hasn’t looked too flash in blue either, and certainly Joe Schmidt was reluctant to use him in the back-to -back games with Clermont, giving him the last quarter in the second tie with the result gone.
Maybe Feek can make something of the Taranaki tight head, who at 26 is hardly over the hill in prop land. It seems he could do with another 5-10kgs, and badly needs to improve power from the hips down.
It’s not unusual for southern hemisphere props to struggle when they come to Europe for it’s a different game down there, played on faster tracks and with a greater emphasis on mobility and skills than having killer effectiveness in the tight. John Afoa for example is a far more consistent scrummager now than when he was in NZ. It helps that he can squat lift most of the Ulster squad out of the gym.
Michael Bent might transform himself, and look back on this in a few years with a smile. Or he might be back in Taranaki by then, trying to forget. Either way, to be rushed in from nowhere for two runs off the bench, and then rushed out again as quickly, when the real business starts, needs some explaining.