Last week was an interesting one for the Aviva Premiership’s Worcester Warriors and by interesting I mean captivating, in much the same way that you can’t take your eyes off a train wreck.
First up the club announced that they were looking for new investors. Then the chief executive Edward Griffiths left the club “with immediate effect”, to borrow from the press release, and the players compounded the boardroom problems by finishing on the ugly end of a 35-8 shellacking in the opening game of the season against the Newcastle Falcons.
David Denton joined the Warriors in the summer and, to borrow from Oliver Hardy, it looks like the 27-year-old has got himself into another fine mess. He originally left Edinburgh Rugby in 2015 and had one and a half dispiriting, injury-plagued seasons with Bath. The big Zimbabwean-born breakaway signed for Worcester this summer and, despite this latest catalogue of catastrophe, he insists he has no regrets…well, almost none.
“Not really if I am honest,” Denton replies when asked the question. “I played at Edinburgh for seven years and I was really inclined to go for the Premiership and test myself.
“I think Bath was the wrong decision for me. I had a few options and I thought that Bath was the best option. With hindsight, looking back, I think perhaps I got caught up in things that aren’t as important, such as the name of the club.
“I have no question in my mind, as much as the last two years have been fairly tough for me, I haven’t played a lot of rugby, I probably spent seven or eight months injured at Bath, which is outrageous, but I am 100 per cent convinced that I left [Bath] a better player than I arrived.
“I went into an environment that was completely outside of my comfort zone in terms of being somewhere new but also in terms of aspects of my game that I was forced to develop that I had never been challenged to do in terms of being able to move the ball and distribute, things that were never part of my game. I was forced to develop.”
“Control the controllables” is the first rule of professional sport but Denton was battered by ill winds well beyond the control of anyone but the Almighty. In the first match of his second season with the club, the big man tore his hamstring clean off the bone, every bit as painful as it sounds, which saw him sidelined for about five months and then saw his body struggle to cope with rugby while constantly compensating for the injury.
The second aspect was the signing of Wales and Lions’ No 8 Taulupe Faletau, who Denton still refers to as “Toby”. Bath had coveted the Dragon for a long time but were thwarted by the Welsh Rugby Union. Having failed to land their man, Bath dipped into backer Bruce Craig’s bulging wallet and, in November of 2015, got Denton instead. One month later his unwanted Christmas present arrived in the form of a December announcement that Faletau would join the following season, rendering the Scot potentially surplus to requirements.
“That wasn’t ideal,” Denton concedes. “When I played at six with Flow [Francois Louw] at seven and Toby [Faletau] at eight, I really enjoyed that. But I told them I want to play No 8, I want to get my hands on the ball as much as possible because that is where I contribute to the team.
“The bigger issue is that Bath play a 2-4-2 pattern with the three back rowers in the wide channels. It’s great for us, from time to time, but it meant that I went from Edinburgh where I would carry the ball 20 times a game to being at Bath where I would carry it five or six times. That game plan is great for Toby and [All Blacks skipper] Kieran Reid and it worked for Todd [Blackadder, the former All Black flanker now in charge at Bath] in Super Rugby but it’s just not the kind of player that I am.”
Just what kind of player Denton can be, you can be forgiven for forgetting, because it’s been a while since we’ve seen him. We first witnessed the breakaway at his awesome best back in 2012 when he won the man-of-the-match award in his first Scotland start in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield.
Since then we have seen glimpses of that player but never a whole season of Denton at his irrepressible best. At just 27 years old he has time on his side and, with Josh Strauss doing penance for the Fiji defeat, Scotland desperately need a big bruiser who can do some damage with the ball in hand.
Denton certainly needs time in the saddle and he won’t get it until the third round of Aviva matches at the earliest after suffering another injury, this one to his ankle, in a pre-season game.
He was lured to Worcester at least in part by new director of rugby Gary Gold, a former Springbok assistant coach and Bath boss whose last gig was with the Natal Sharks in Super Rugby. Denton was born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa so he has a natural rapport with his new coach; a blessed relief after experiencing the dark side of the professional rugby dream over the last two years.
“Gary Gold, he is one of the main reasons I came,” says the breakaway. “He is a great coach and he shares a similar rugby philosophy to mine.
“After what I have done over the last few years, I had to make a selfish decision about what was best for my rugby, and playing for Scotland was a big part of the decision because I knew I had to get back to my best so I can get in the Scotland team as well.
“If I am completely honest I was in a dark place around rugby about six months ago. For the first time in my career I was getting ready for games but I wasn’t excited to be playing rugby.
“Coming back this pre-season, this is the most I have enjoyed playing rugby since I was a kid of 21 years old. I am so excited, I am really enjoying the prospect of getting into the best physical condition and the best mental state I can. This is a big step for me because it’s not something I have ever appreciated.
“I think more than anything, the mental state I am in now, how motivated I am, is because of what has happened to me over the last year in particular and I am pretty sure that will be a catalyst for the next few years.
“I want to prove people wrong but, more than anything, I want to prove people right…the people that still believe in me, that still believe I am the player that I think I am. I want to prove them right.”