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After a difficult start to life with Leinster, Bent set for 'proud' milestone in blue

The prop will make his 100th appearance for the province in Friday’s clash with Edinburgh.

Bent pictured outside Leinster HQ earlier this week.
Bent pictured outside Leinster HQ earlier this week.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

WHEN MICHAEL BENT describes his journey to this point as one of exhilarating highs and deflating lows, he is not underselling it in the slightest, particularly when you consider the inhospitable welcome he first received upon arriving on these shores.

Through no fault of his own, the softly-spoken Kiwi-born prop became a touchstone for the IRFU’s penchant for recklessly handing out international caps having made his Ireland debut just months after arriving from New Zealand, and before he made an appearance for Leinster.

Criticism came from all angles — former players, supporters and the media — and while they were understandably tough times for Bent, he weathered the storm, put the head down and slowly, through his performances in blue, earned the respect of those who once questioned his inclusion.

Six years later, the 31-year-old is now preparing to make his 100th appearance for Leinster when Leo Cullen’s side resume their Guinness Pro14 against Edinburgh on Friday evening.

“There have been a few ups and downs along the way,” he admits, reflecting on his previous 99 games for the eastern province.

“It has taken time but pretty happy to be clocking up 100 games. At the start of this season it was something I targeted to achieve during the year so I’m pretty happy. Looking forward to it.”

Age and experience helps, but Bent is certainly enjoying his rugby a lot more these days having firmly settled in Dublin around family while also proving to those who initially labelled him an over-rated prop his true worth.

“At the beginning, I didn’t think I’d get to 100 caps, no,” he continues. “I signed a two-year contract when I first came over so it was pretty much just see how things go and after that signed on again and after that signed on again.

“There have been certain things I’ve targeted along the way, and certain things that have kept me motivated but it wasn’t something I necessarily thought was going to happen until more recent times.”

Michael Bent Bent arrived from the Hurricanes back in 2012. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Reflecting on those testing early days, Bent has no regrets having left family, friends and the Hurricanes back in New Zealand in pursuit of a fresh challenge on the other side of the world.

As an Irish passport holder, Bent was keen to explore the opportunity when Leinster came calling after he spent two years in Super Rugby.

“The Irish heritage played a big part in it, which is something I’ve grown more proud of in my time over here,” he says.

“I’ve learned a bit more about it and I had family over here already so that was a thing which motivated me to come over and Leinster had already had a lot of success by that stage.

“It’s a big club and that seemed like a great opportunity to come over and play for this club.

“My brother and sister are both living here in Dublin. My sister was here for a good six years before I came over and my brother moved over here last year. And we’ve just had a baby girl, Emerson.”

A versatile option who can operate on both sides of the front-row, Bent was drafted into the first Ireland squad he was available for by Joe Schmidt and made his debut in the 16-12 defeat to South Africa in November 2012.

In the six years since, Bent has made just three further appearances for Ireland, the last of which came in the World Cup warm-up against Scotland in August 2015, and looking back now, there have been a few occasions he has felt hard done by.

“I would have been in and out of the Irish camp so certain goals through the years would have been to get back in there and get a few more caps,” Bent explains.

“There were times when I’ve felt hard done by and that but you can’t change it. You’ve just got to keep working hard and look forward to the future.

“Whether I get any more in there [caps] or whether it’s just a thing of working hard for Leinster, I can’t be sure of but for the meantime just have to look at the next short-term block for Leinster. These four games are going to be very important for the season overall and that’s the focus for the moment.”

Missing out on the 2015 World Cup squad seems to have been a particular disappointment. Bent felt his versatility to cover both tighthead and loosehead would have worked in his favour in terms of selection, but maybe it had the opposite effect.

He continues: “Around the time of the World Cup I thought it was going to be an advantage for me because I could cover both sides. That was something I was actually pretty keen to maintain at the time and to be able to used for that role, to slot in on either side.

IrelandÕs Michael Bent The prop has won four Ireland caps. Source: Inpho

“It was a bit of a challenge to cover both sides and I had to keep working on that but at the time it was something I was keen to do and be available as a player who could do that.

“Over the last couple of seasons, I realised I just wanted to concentrate on the one side and stick to that and get better at that.”

Bent, who has featured 12 times this season, six from the start, says focusing on nailing down the qualities required to be a quality tighthead has helped him in recent years; last campaign, he won 24 caps for the province, the most of any year he has been with the club.

“Early on, the set-piece was something I struggled with a little bit and I’ve been swapping in between loosehead and tighthead and that makes it hard to concentrate on one and get really strong at one,” he adds.

“The past couple of seasons I’ve just been concentrating on the tighthead side and I think that’s been a big plus. Every training session I’m just thinking about the role for the tighthead and I’m not thinking about what to do for loosehead. It has been a big plus to concentrate on that one thing and it just simplifies things.”

And that brings us onto Friday, when Bent will lead Leinster out at Myreside for what will be a special occasion.

“These four games are going to be very important for the season overall and that’s our focus.”

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