Unlike the man he has been signed to replace, David Denton was at least able to bid his erstwhile team-mates farewell in person before taking his leave from Edinburgh yesterday morning and heading off to Bath, where he was immediately unveiled as the West Country club’s new signing.
When news broke last week that Sam Burgess was leaving Bath to return to Rugby League in Australia, it also emerged that club captain Stuart Hopper had decreed that it was best that he did not visit the squad to explain his decision.
Edinburgh, in contrast, wished their departing hero the best of luck on his new adventure, with head coach Alan Solomons offering up a glowing review of the 25-year-old’s influence at the club over the past six years.
“David has made an invaluable contribution to Edinburgh, both on and off the field, and I’m sad to see him go, both as his coach and personally. He’s been a model professional. His powerful performances and work ethic have been outstanding, and his commitment to the club over the years has been an inspiration to many of our younger players and supporters,” said Solomons.
“I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him and I, and everyone at the club, wish him all the very best for the future.”
Centre Will Helu, who joined the club from Wasps during the summer, didn’t ever get the chance to play with Denton – but did speak to him yesterday.
“It’s a disappointing loss for Edinburgh, having a guy like Denton adds a lot of firepower and it would have been good to play alongside him – but it is a professional sport now so a lot of people move on, so we wish him all the best,” said Helu.
“Obviously he’s been here six years so he has a lot of ties to Edinburgh and built a lot of friendships, and I know from speaking to him that it was the hardest decision of his life, leaving his best mates – especially at a club like Edinburgh which brought him to the next level and propelled him into the international game. But he’s got his own reasons and I didn’t go into depth with him about that.”
“All I asked him was if they signed him as a 12 or a six!” he added, in a cheeky reference to the confusion which surrounded Bath’s deployment of Burgess in the back-row, while England used him as an inside centre.
Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson put a positive spin to yesterday’s events.
“This move represents an excellent opportunity for David to gain new experience in another playing environment,” said Dodson. “It came out of the blue, and while it wasn’t an easy decision, we weren’t going to stand in the way. This gives young, local talent like Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Hamish Watson further opportunities.”
While the loss of Denton is undoubtedly a major blow to Edinburgh, they can take comfort from the knowledge that they have greater back-row depth than ever before – with captain Mike Coman, 2015 Super Rugby champions Nasi Manu and John Hardie, South African powerhouse Cornel du Preez (fit again after recovering from a serious ankle injury), Roddy Grant, and native starlets Bradbury, Ritchie and Watson all vying for selection.
Denton has in the past been accused of being too one dimensional but, after an injury ravaged 2014-15 season, the Zimbabwe-born breakaway proved himself this autumn to be among the best in the business at giving his team forward momentum by running hard and straight at the opposition
His performances at the Rugby World Cup – and especially in Scotland’s quarter-final defeat to Australia – caught Bath head coach Mike Ford’s attention as he cast around for a replacement for Burgess.
Welsh No 8 Taulupe Faletau is understood to have been Bath’s first choice, and Newport Gwent Dragons were apparently keen to cash in on a £150,000 deal but Welsh Rugby Union bosses refused the transfer request.
South African Schalk Burger and Louis Picamoles of Toulouse and France have also been linked with moves to Bath.
“We’ve been looking to bolster our back row for some time now so we’re very excited that David is joining us,” said Ford. “He had an excellent World Cup, especially in the quarter-final when he managed to outshine one of the best Australian back rows I’ve seen for a long time. He’s going to fit in very well with the team and the way we play here.”