IN THE LEINSTER press release that announced Michael Bent’s decision to retire at the end of the season, Leo Cullen labelled the tighthead as “one of the unsung heroes of Leinster Rugby.”

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Since arriving in Ireland in 2012, Bent has racked up over 150 Leinster caps, one Champions Cup medal, one Challenge Cup medal, and six Pro14 titles. It’s a return the player himself still finds hard to wrap his head around.

“Initially, I signed for two years,” Bent says.” I literally decided to go over for the two years and see what happened, and I certainly couldn’t have imagined that I would play this amount of times and this long for Leinster.

“When I first arrived here, just looking at the facilities and the setup that Leinster had here, there was a thought in my head that it would be great to spend as much time here as I can. I ended up doing that, staying as long as I possibly could, and I have enjoyed my time here.”

Of course, Bent’s introduction to the wider Irish rugby public didn’t go smoothly. The prop was handed an international debut before ever representing Leinster, a move many viewed as a sign the IRFU were too swift to throw out Test caps to overseas recruits – ill-judged photos of Bent with hurley in hand didn’t exactly help.

The international career didn’t work out as planned, with Bent winning just two caps in 2012 and two more in 2015, but his longevity in a squad as competitive as Leinster’s is no mean feat. Yet for all he’s achieved with the province, some of the narrative around the early part of his career in Ireland still grates.

“Yeah, it’s certainly frustrating that that start I had always pops up,” he says.

“I’m also glad with the fact that since the first lockdown I’ve had a lot of time playing, a lot of minutes. That’s been really good for me and I’ve really enjoyed my last season here and I feel like I’m going out at a point where I really feel good with where my play is at and it’s been a very enjoyable season. So while there were some tough times initially I have really enjoyed my time towards the end.” 

Bent even feels the circumstances surrounding his start as an Ireland international may have counted against him further down the line.

“I guess some of those were frustrating. I suppose everyone comes up with those sorts of things with their career but, yeah, I do feel there were some times when I missed out a bit. What can you do?”

Bent will win cap number 158 for Leinster tonight when the province take on Glasgow, before next week’s home game against Dragons and a potential – if unlikely – Rainbow Cup final.

When Leinster’s season concludes, Bent and his family will head back to Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island, where he plans to help out on the family dairy farm and do a bit of work as an electrician, while also keeping involved with rugby.

Bent made his Leinster debut in 2012. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For Bent’s young family, though, Dublin will also be remembered as home.

“I’ve got two kids that were born over here so there will always be a connection to the place, and my grandmother was from here. There was always that connection, but nine years living here… I’ve done a bit of travelling in the country and seen some amazing sights. There’s still more that I would like to have seen. It’s a shame that the last year has been very limited in what I could have done there.

“I still have family here. My brother and sister are still here. I’m not sure how long they will stay here, but I will still be looking to come back and visit whenever I can and my two kids will have a connection to the place as well, and in years to come they might look to come back and see Ireland as much as they can as well.”

So, the highlights of his time in blue?

“Some of the clashes with Munster at the Aviva Stadium, those are some of the big games I have been involved in and, in general, the last season or so has been really enjoyable for me. Through the seasons where you were kind of in and out (of the team), it was sort of hard to get into a rhythm, but the last couple of seasons have been quite enjoyable.” 

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