David Denton ready to seize chance after spell in the wilderness

Whenever Scotland have been hit by the hammer blow of multiple injuries this season, the coaches have always '¨been keen to stress the word 'opportunity'.
David Denton during a Scotland training session at Oriam. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRUDavid Denton during a Scotland training session at Oriam. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU
David Denton during a Scotland training session at Oriam. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU

It is a positive take on what is just a natural occurrence in modern rugby but does carry with it a double-edged sword, as David Denton knows all too well.

The powerful back-rower made an impressive comeback to the Scotland set-up off the bench in last Sunday’s Six Nations-reviving win over France at BT Murrayfield, but the Zimbabwe-born 28-year-old admits there were times when he worried he may not be able to force his way back in.

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Since he left Edinburgh for Bath following the 2015 World Cup, some untimely injuries and the favouring of rival candidates had left him on the outside looking in.

There were appearances in the 2016 Six Nations and summer tour to Japan but that first Test in Tokyo was the last outing in the dark blue until he came off the bench last Sunday to add some ballast to that successful final push against the French.

“There always is,” says Denton when asked if there had been any fear that a Scotland recall may not come. “Any time you pick up an injury or come out of a squad, you’re giving somebody else an opportunity in the jersey you were in.

“It’s always a worry for any player, and when I was sat back watching Scotland play games, you do think ‘Am I going to get back in? Am I going to get an opportunity?’

“But at the end of the day you can’t think about it too much. You just keep your head down and keep working, and what will happen will happen.”

That said, Denton emphasised that he never felt totally out of the loop.

“They were very good,” he said of the Scotland management. “I was in constant contact with them. I always knew I was still in the picture and they let me know it was a matter of getting back to the player they and I knew I was.

“After the run of injuries it took me a while to do that. In my first few games back I didn’t feel like myself. At the tail-end of my second Bath season I didn’t feel like myself at all.

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“It took some physical and mental changes. I changed my approach to the game a lot in the past 12 months. Staying in communication with them put my mind at ease a bit.”

The 6ft 5in No 8, who had a particularly eye-catching match against Australia in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final, moved from Bath to Worcester and will be playing his club rugby at Leicester Tigers next season. In some ways, the move to England has been a contributing factor to his dropping off the Scotland radar slightly. The Aviva Premiership is a quality league but there is no secret that the national team management prefer having home-based players under their in-house systems rather than not.

Denton has no regrets about the move south, though, and feels it could be of benefit this weekend when he could well come up against players he knows well, either as team-mates or opponents.

“The physicality of the [English] Premiership was definitely a step up,” said Denton, who joined Edinburgh in the 2010-11 season following a successful spell for Scotland Under-20s and Scotland Sevens.

“All the England guys play at that level every week. For me to play against a lot of their internationals is great experience.

“I played with [stand-off] George Ford for two years [at Bath]. It gives a great insight into how they want to play. I wouldn’t say I learnt anything more than I would just watching, but it is definitely a different style.

“I wouldn’t say I held any of them above any Scottish players but I suppose there are players in the squad I am friends with off the field and on Saturday I’ll have to park that as we’re professional sportsmen.

“When you see them on Monday morning it’s a lot easier if you’ve knocked them on their backs than if they’ve knocked you on yours.”

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The prospect of England arriving at Murrayfield brings back memories of Denton’s memorable first start in a Scotland jersey back in 2012. He first featured off the bench the previous year in a World Cup warm-up game against Ireland but considers that Calcutta Cup clash, which ended in a 13-6 defeat but him as man-of-the-match, the first of his now quarter-century of caps.

“It was one of my favourite moments on a rugby pitch,” he recalled. “It was in the Six Nations, Scottish rugby’s 
biggest game.

“I look back on it with fond memories. It would have been better if we’d won and we 
had a great opportunity to do that, but I really enjoyed the game.”

Getting that win over England this weekend is Denton’s primary focus, although a few compliments on his new hairstyle wouldn’t go amiss either.

“Maybe a man bun. I’ll stick with that,” he says with a laugh, eschewing the potential label of “top-knot”.

“My cousin gave me pelters. I’ve had a lot of stick, particularly from the family. It’s like Marmite. Well, actually no, not many people love it; most hate it.

“It’s a bit of a change. A bit of a laugh.”