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Bentley enjoying being back in Wellington

Jubilee Cup Premier | 24 June 2015 | Adam Julian

 Bentley enjoying being back in Wellington

Above: Jonathan Bentley back playing for Hutt Old Boys Marist recently after several years overseas.

In August last year Wellington Lions coach Chris Boyd asked Jonathan Bentley, "How long are you staying in New Zealand for?"

Bentley was over from England on a brief break and responded, "a couple of weeks." Boyd replied, "can you make it a few months?"

In 2014 the Lions employed the services of six first-fives in 10 games.

"It seemed to be one of the seasons where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Bentley says.

"I actually tried to get an early release from my contract in Jersey, but it didn't work out."

Rewind a decade and the diminutive pivot was a promising age-group prospect in Wellington.

Between 2002 and 2004 he played three seasons in the St. Patrick's College, Silverstream First XV and was a member of the Wellington Academy.

In 2007 he was knocking on the door of Lions selection after helping Hutt Old Boys' Marist win the Jubilee Cup, while being named Club Player of the Year.

Bentley was then told he was too small to play for Wellington, or was he? He clarifies a long-time misconception.

"I was never specifically told I was too small to play for Wellington. There was a restructure within the Academy and I sensed I was on the outer after being dropped from that," he says.


"I got a call from Earl Va'a one day asking me if I was interested in playing for Wairarapa Bush. Even though they were in the third division I said I was keen after Nick Risdon (HOBM halfback) had enjoyed his experience with Buller."

"The next time I heard from Earl he asked me, 'Do you want to come to Japan?' He had got a job with Yokogawa Electric. I walked out of the Victoria University library that day and never returned."

Bentley spent 2008 with Yokogawa. Newly promoted to the Japanese top league they struggled to win games. Bentley explains why. "Personally the language barrier was difficult to overcome being away from home for the first time. We also had a small budget compared to the other teams so when we had lots of injuries we struggled. In one game Radike Samo broke his collarbone running into Steven Bates, we couldn't afford to lose players of his calibre."

In 2009 Chris Stirling (now Hurricanes High Performance Manager) persuaded Bentley to move to England and play for the second-division Cornish Pirates.

Bentley spent four years there. He played 57 games and scored 292 points. His most successful season was in 2010-11 when the Cornish Pirates made the Championship final and lost to Worcester.

Bentley says he particularly enjoyed playing with Scottish international Blair Cowan.

"I grew up with Blair in Upper Hutt, he lived a kilometre down the road. We went to primary school and college together. When I arrived in England we flatted together for two years. He got recruited by Worcester when they beat us in the final and he hasn't looked back. I wouldn't have picked him to become an international at school, but he has worked hard and really deserves it."

England was not without its challenges. The style of rugby didn't always suit a player with natural flair.

"There is a greater emphasis on defence and set-piece, Bentley explains.

"In the southern hemisphere the set-piece is seen as a way to restart the game and launch attacks. Over there the scrums are a game within a game. The front rows are looking to smash their opponents and win penalties. If you're a No.8 in England, you've got a good chance of scoring a lot of tries. One year Blair Cowan scored 15 tries, but only ran 15-metres."

Pitch conditions weren't ideal.

"One day we drove seven hours to Coventry only to discover the pitch there was an ice rink. We played 60 minutes and called the game off, driving all the way back to Cornwell on the same day."

Injuries were also frequent, Bentley missed the best part of two years rugby.

"Initially I had a groin complaint which required surgery and then I did an Achilles tendon and spent 16 months out trying to repair my heal bone," he says.

In 2013 Bentley's quality and perseverance was recognised by Premiership side Gloucester.

Lacking depth at first-five Bentley was recruited as a back-up option and was poised to make a strong push for a regular starting place until injury struck again.

"I played a Heineken Cup game against Munster and was feeling really good about things until I did a medial ligament in my knee at training. The coach had ended the session and then called us back for one drill. I smashed into our lock and came off second best," he recalls.

Bentley was loaned to Leeds and then dispatched to Jersey - a long way from playing with internationals like: Ben Morgan, Jimmy Cowan, Freddie Burns and Johnny May.

"Jersey is an Island in the English Channel, not dissimilar to Cornwell. It's a beautiful in the summer, but dreadful in the winter, like Craggy Island off Father Ted," Bentley says.

"We used to call ourselves the swamp donkeys because the grounds were unplayable after half an hour."

Still he insists he enjoyed the experience, but when offered the chance to return home it was an easy choice.

"I had only been back to Wellington for about a month in seven years, so I think it was time to come home. I am contracted to Wellington and excited about that opportunity whatever it entails."

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