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Gary Bennett talks about how a trip to Australia to play rugby enhanced his career. Replying to an advertisement in the weekly Rugby publication the Marist centre spent last summer playing rugby in the Northern Territory of Australia.
The benefits he has received from the off season training and playing has seen him burst on to the Invercargill club rugby scene. Playing for Marist in the combined competition he has been a dynamic player in the centres. With his goal kicking ability that he has worked on he has amassed a tally of 62 points so far this season, and is the leading point scorer in the competition.
He says that rugby over there was not of a particularly high standard but it had opened new horizons for him. Many of the backs played rugby league during the winter and went up to Darwin to play rugby to stay fit during the summer.
He went on to say the lifestyle was free and easy and it was great just going to play and train just wearing socks, boots and shorts. As the season went on he noticed a number of teams were bolstered by New Zealand forwards which increased the standard.
After only two or three weeks there he was selected in the Northern Territory side which was to play Queensland. He was listed as a reserve in the team and got on in the last ten minutes and marked Andrew Slack.
Later in the season the squad went on tour and Gary had a full time place in the team as centre. One of the teams he played against was a Gold Coast team which was coached by Southland representative Bos McGowan.
It was while he was on this tour that he decided to give his goal kicking a serious go and with a lot of practice and the fact that the sand that is bought on the field helped his style and that is why he now builds a big mound before kicking for goal.
He is heavier now than he has ever been at 13st 3lb and is fitter and faster.
Southland born, Gary lived his first 11 years in Tuatapere but did not make his presence felt until his family shifted to Queenstown and made his way in Otago rugby.
He went to St Kevins school in Oamaru and was there for five years before leaving in the 7th form.
The last three years saw him playing in the first XV where he played initially on the wing and moved to centre. He was coached by Paul Boyd at the college and really enjoyed this time of his rugby career.
He returned to Queenstown where he played club rugby and was selected for the Otago juniors.
In 1977, his now Marist club mate, Peter Dunne asked him to shift to Invercargill and play for Marist and made the move as he knew some of the players from school days.
He lost his confidence through having a number of injuries, one being a broken jaw and decided to take a month off, and it was just after this that he decided to move to Australia.
At 22 years of age he would be one of the fast athlete around, where he has an impressive record, and this of course has flowed over to the rugby field.
He has a wind assisted time in the 100 M of 10.7 sec. He has won national junior titles and still holds a few Otago records.
He went on to say that the 1978 Marist team would be one of the best he has played in and he is really enjoying the combined competition.
Frank Mason is a great coach and he feels because he is a forward coach he lets the backs virtually do their own thing which is working really well.
A recent game against Invercargill saw Bennetts scored first with a penalty goal, but it did not take long for Invercargill to equal then go ahead, but Bennetts saw an opportunity that let him run 40M to score a try after making the perfect intercept.
He gives full credit to Peter Hughes, who he said is an incredible captain and gets the team stirred up, on this particular day, although Invercargill won they did not have it all their own way and neither will any other teams if they give away penalties.
Reference: The Southland Times May 1978
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