John “Bentos” Bentley Interview with Scrum Magazine

Interview with John Bentley courtesy of SCRUM MAGAZINE

Bentos is looking forward to his fourth British & Irish Lions tour with Living With The Lions Sports Travel and we cannot wait to spend time with him again. His personality and smile is infectious and he really is the life and soul of the tour.

Twenty years ago John Bentley drove down to Birmingham from Newcastle with the likes of Alan Tait and Doddie Weir for a British & Irish Lions introductory meeting, not knowing that in the months that ensued he would become part of one of the most revered sides in rugby history.
Like Tait, Scott Gibbs and Alan Bateman, Bentley had his roots, and much of his career to date, ensconced in rugby league, which was a professional sport played by hard, hard men.

Recalling that trip down the M42, John says: “There was a horrendous crash on the motorway and we nearly missed out on it altogether, but just arrived in the nick of time. There were 62 of us that got measured for suits and because it was the first professional tour of its kind, everyone had to sit down and sign contracts and it’s mad to think that people were going to get paid to play for the Lions.
“Being from a rugby league background, the Lions was still seen as the ultimate and I never thought for a minute I’d be selected for a tour, let alone a Test spot. Going over to South Africa to play in such a hostile atmosphere didn’t sink in until long after; I genuinely still look back on it all and think ‘Wow, that was special’.”
The 1997 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa was one for the ages. It rekindled four nations’ love affair with the most iconic of unified selections and delivered the finest of legacies with a 2-1 series triumph over the then world champions. As John succinctly puts it: “You spend four years kicking lumps out of each other and then come together to do the same to another team. And it’s just as special for the opposition as well, who only get that chance every 12 years.”
The former winger also thinks that 2017 will present itself with the opportunity for more Scots to get the nod than in recent times.
Not since that 1997 tour have Scotland been represented by more than a thimbleful of players, but John sees an upsurge this time around: “A hell of a lot can happen between now and May of course and the squad is rightly based on form, but you see the development of the Scots under Vern Cotter and the belief the players now have and have to be hopeful.

“Stuart Hogg has already been a Lion and is nailed on to start the first Test for me, and each player selected will have earned the right over time. It’s not about the number on the back of the shirt, it’s about the badge on the front of it, and Hogg looks ready.”
Twenty years ago, three Scots started the first Test in Cape Town in the form of Alan Tait, Gregor Townsend and the indomitable Tom Smith, with Rob Wainwright coming in for the third.
Speaking about his former cohorts, John said: “Tom Smith was a quiet man who would barely say more than three words but he was immense. Gregor was superb and really grew into a top player on that tour; Rob epitomised what being posh was but he had a great rugby brain; and Taity was a top player.
“There was a great mix of guys that put their differences aside to try and beat the Springboks in a situation where nobody fancied us to win a match, let alone the series. I think this time around there’s a real optimism about things because of the competition for places.”
John is heading out to New Zealand in the summer to assist with the Living With the Lions tour groups, and cannot wait for the action to get underway, adding: “I always get emotional before the Test matches as it brings home the fact that four countries have come together in order to try and beat some of the best teams in the world. New Zealand are the very best and having won the past two World Cups, are just an immense challenge, and one that the Lions will have to address very quickly. When we won in ’97, we adopted a game plan that the South Africans weren’t expecting and the same will have to happen this year, from the very first tour match.
“It would be nice if we managed to win the first Test to set the boys up for the rest of the tour and after the 2005 disaster in New Zealand, it’s time to compete with the All Blacks. The Lions is pure ‘Box Office’ and still one of the world’s greatest sporting events.”
John "Bentos" Bentley Interview with Scrum Magazine bentosmont

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