Six Nations: David Denton carrying hopes of nation already as Scots look to Cardiff

THOSE who think the players, rather than the coaches, will overcome Scotland’s interminable struggle to score tries, can see hope in the shape of No 8 David Denton.

The Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-schooled youngster, who turned 22 on Sunday, has been a standout since he pitched up at Edinburgh University three years ago and joined Accies.

He had been pointed in Scotland’s direction by his Glasgwegian mother Joy and her Troon-based parents. He was swiftly brought into the Scotland age-grade system and while his shock of blond hair made him noticeable to supporters, it was his athleticism for a 6ft 5in, then 17-stone [now 18-stone] lad that had coaches’ eyes twinkling.

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In interviews this week, after winning the Man of the Match award in the Calcutta Cup, it was his middle name “Kipling” that attracted interest.

Was he related to Bombay-born writer Rudyard Kipling, who grew up in England and wrote If, The Jungle Book and Just So stories? Or maybe the master baker, Mr Kipling?

Denton laughed. “I’ve been doing a bit of research because it was suggested to me I should learn what it was. There is a distant relation there with [Rudyard] Kipling but I’m still not sure exactly what it is.”

And, talking of family links, he added: “My folks were over for the game and it was special of them to be here. I’m just sorry we couldn’t get them a win.”

For Scotland supporters it is Denton’s ability to provide a lead and inject momentum into the game that is of more interest than his name.

With Scotland having scored the fewest tries of all the teams in the Six Nations in the last decade, head coach Andy Robinson and attack coach Gregor Townsend, in particular, are coming under fire.

For the England game, Robinson handed first Test starts to Denton and his Edinburgh team-mate Lee Jones and, for this week’s game in Wales, followed up by giving another Edinburgh player, Greig Laidlaw, his first start at stand-off and promoting Glasgow trio Duncan Weir, Stuart Hogg and Ed Kalman to the bench for the first time.

Laidlaw, who came on against England for the now-retired Dan Parks, has urged his team-mates to be calm and let the tries come.

In Denton, Scotland have a player who has just that kind of composure.

“A lot of it’s natural,” said Denton, with a shrug. “I try to go out and play the way I normally do. You have to forget you’re playing for your country and try to treat it as any other game.

“It’s made a lot easier playing around players who are world-class. I don’t feel any added pressure because of the way I played against England. This is the way I have been playing all season for Edinburgh.

“There was quite a bit of expectation on my shoulders going into the England game and I coped alright. So, in that sense, nothing has changed.”

Denton acknowledges he made mistakes and that the intensity of a Test match was a real lesson. But he was a terrific presence going forward and his pace was valuable in defence when he denied England wing David Strettle what seemed a sure try.

Understandably, Denton was held culpable, along with his team-mates, in the analysis of a match Scotland dominated but squandered by failing to score tries. But he remains convinced the team have five-pointers in them.

“It was bittersweet for me at the weekend,” said Denton. “The whole build-up to the game was incredible and making my debut was a dream.

“Everybody talks about it but running out of the tunnel and on to the field is something I will never forget. I am very grateful for the chance. But, at the end of the game, all my emotions were taken down a notch.

“I was happy to get the Man of the Match award but I made a few mistakes which, hopefully, I can iron out and, more obviously, we lost the game.

“I am just trying to keep my feet on the ground. I saw some of the stuff when people were talking about me and the Lions, but, listen, it’s still very early days. I’ve played just one Test match.

“I’m really thankful to the people who have given me that kind of credit but there is a long way for me to go. You have to be consistent over a period of time and I’m quite a grounded person anyway. People will have different opinions all over the world and I will need to learn to take the good with the bad.

“The most important thing for us is to win and we must make sure we do that from now onwards. There is a real purpose to what we’re doing and we’re just really looking forward to the game on Sunday.”

Denton may be new to the team but he brings a confidence that others can feed off, as well as that grounded and straight-talking approach.

Skipper Ross Ford has demanded more honesty from the players, specifically in holding each other to account for on-field failures and demanding improvement, and Denton buys into that.

“It’s very important everyone stands up and has their say,” he said. “You have to stand up for yourself and for your team and we’re a mature enough group to accept that.

“A lot of time the guys will hold their hands up to a mistake but we need to cut these mistakes out altogether. We’ve worked a lot on our line breaks this week.

“We have players in the team who are more than capable of scoring tries but it’s about making the breaks together. We need to be aware of where players will be. That has helped us a lot.”

The prospect of Denton facing Toby Faletau, still just 21, is one of several mouth-watering potential clashes in Sunday’s game, with Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton (if the skipper recovers full fitness in time), against Ross Rennie and Alasdair Strokosch also adding up to a crucial part of this match.

If Scotland are to have a chance, they must dominate the set-piece, which is eminently achievable, and make inroads at the breakdown to take attacks forward.

Denton acknowledges that Scotland face another huge challenge to bring down a Welsh side on home turf, who are bubbling with confidence after reaching the World Cup semi-finals and opening the championship with victory in Dublin.

“We watched their game at the weekend and they played very well,” added Denton. “They have good ball carriers and it’s about shutting these guys down.

“I believe we have the ability and the talent in the squad to do that. I believe that we can win.

“Wales have a lot of powerful players but you have to have belief in yourself and your team mates.”

Denton may have experienced the harsh reality of playing for Scotland in his first start, but, if he can bring his skills to bear this weekend, there is little doubt his story may become as popular as those of a (possible) distant relative.