David Denton: making a splash
AFTER an inauspicious start, it’s all going swimmingly for Edinburgh’s big breakaway.
The first thing that strikes you when meeting David Denton is the sheer, overwhelming, jaw-dropping size of the man. His paw rightly belongs on a grizzly bear, he towers over me and frankly, if you sprayed him green, the big breakaway could do a passable impression of the Incredible Hulk.
All of which makes it difficult to comprehend his early memories of arriving in Scotland from Zimbabwe as a friendless, far-from-home 18-year-old in January of 2009, turning out for Edinburgh Accies second team for the entire second half of the season.
“It was very tough mentally when I came over. I wasn’t registered and I don’t know if I would have made the first team even if I had been registered to be honest. I wasn’t there physically at the time.”
Surely Denton means he wasn’t there mentally?
“No, I don’t think I was there physically,” he insists. “I was 100kg [15¬ stones] when I moved over and I probably put on 10kg in the first three months. I was a skinny boy who had only played schoolboy rugby. Accies was really good for me, especially with Barney [Ian Barnes] as head coach. He was renowned for being old school and a bit of a hard bastard. That was very good for me just in terms of hardening up and learning what it was like playing against adults. I think that helped me a lot. Playing in the second team was hard, going out every Saturday and playing on slanted pitches and frozen mud. I did find it tough.
“I always knew I wanted to play rugby and I knew that I had the ability to get where I am now so it was just a matter of getting myself into a position where I could do it physically and mentally too, which was important. It would have been very easy for me to come over and say, the weather is shit, I’m playing dreadful rugby. I was playing second team and I wasn’t even playing well. I was unsettled. It would have been easy for me to sit back and let things go but, once the ball started rolling, you start to enjoy it and, when you’re enjoying it, things are easy.”
It must have felt easy last season because Denton was ever-present for Scotland – he qualifies through his Glaswegian mother – during the Six Nations. He won a man-of-the-match award in his first start against England and was immediately touted as a Lions candidate. He was one of the bright spots for the Scots in what proved a dispiriting campaign. However, a strain to his ankle ligaments meant that Denton missed the summer tour to Australia and the South Sea islands and he must have had mixed emotions when Scotland returned home from the Pacific with a clean sweep of victories.
“Especially before the games started there were a lot of mixed feelings for me,” he admits. “I was really disappointed not to be there, it was the first long-term injury I’ve ever had. Once the games started you can’t feel anything but happiness for the way the boys were playing but again after the tour I’d have liked to have been involved in a winning tour like that. But when the games were on I was just delighted for the boys, how they managed to stick it out and get the wins, which is something that we’ve been missing.”
That ankle injury occurred in their final RaboDirect PRO12 outing of the season, against Treviso at Murrayfield, just four weeks after a 38,000-strong crowd had roared Edinburgh to victory over Toulouse in the Heineken Cup quarter-final. In contrast, a paltry 2,855 attended the Treviso match and, given Edinburgh’s appalling league form, you have to wonder if, like moths, the fans were only attracted to Murrayfield by the bright lights. While Edinburgh enjoyed a brilliant run in Europe, the club were so poor at their day job that they managed just six league wins all season and somehow leaked 62 tries in 22 matches, at a rate of almost three per match.
“It was a very strange season,” says Denton in an attempt to rationalise the Rabo campaign. “Obviously at the start of the season I was involved with Edinburgh when the Scotland guys were away [at the World Cup] and then midway through the season I wasn’t but I think we made the error of... well, people didn’t really put themselves forward when the Scotland guys were away. I don’t think we did as well as we could have when everyone was away at the World Cup and the Six Nations too. And that’s been a massive focus for us this season and you can see that by the signings Michael [Bradley, the head coach] has made.
“There is a massive emphasis on defence in all of our sessions. There has always been a big emphasis on attack because we are one of the best attacking teams in Europe, as we showed against Racing Metro [in the 48-47 Heineken Cup win]. But you are only going to win a match like that one in ten times. If a side score 47 points against you then you should lose the game. So we are not accepting that ever again and we just have to make sure that we don’t let tries in. That’s our massive goal for the season.”
Denton himself has a couple of short-term goals. He wants to be involved in a fearsome-looking autumn Test schedule against New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga.
He could face an old Zimbabwean school friend, the Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, but first he must get into Edinburgh’s starting line up and that isn’t a given. Bradley has an abundance of classy No.8s from Netani Talei and Dimitri Basilaia through Stuart McInally and, of course, Denton himself.
Munster visit Murrayfield on Saturday evening in the league opener, which will give Edinburgh a rigorous challenge, but Denton is unfailingly upbeat when he previews the season ahead.
“I am very confident,” he says with his infectious enthusiasm. “Just being out there and seeing the guys we have in our squad there is a real sense of how strong we are as a team. When guys go away during the Six Nations, if me and Rosco [Ross Rennie] and Rambo [McInally] go away, the back row isn’t losing anything with Roddy [Grant], Dimitri and Netani. It’s the same in the centres and the wings. I think depth is massively important with 22 Rabo games and, hopefully, eight or nine Heineken games. At training it definitely feels like a stronger squad and we can’t wait to get some wins under our belt.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West