6N: David Denton rejoices in return to form and favour with Scotland

A victory against England on Saturday would round off the month nicely for the 28-year-old

David Denton training with the Scotland squad at Oriam.
David Denton training with the Scotland squad at Oriam. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

SUDDENLY, everything is going right for David Denton. The last two years have been a frustrating time for the No 8 because of injuries, but the last month has seen one thing after the other fall into place.

He is fit again, for a start, and playing with the dynamism that attracted so much attention early on in his career. He has just signed a three-year deal to leave Worcester Warriors for Leicester Tigers in the summer. And he is back in the Scotland squad again, with his appearance off the bench in the win against France having been his first cap since the summer tour to Japan in 2016.

A victory against England at Murrayfield on Saturday would round off the month nicely for the 28-year-old, whose first of five Calcutta Cup appearances so far, in 2012, was a man-of-the-match performance in a 13-6 defeat. Denton was also on the losing side in his four subsequent outings in the fixture, and he knows how difficult it will be for Scotland to end that run of losses against opponents who, he feels, have won their first two Six Nations Championship matches this year without hitting top gear.

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“They would think they’re a better team than how they’ve been playing,” he said at Oriam yesterday when asked about Eddie Jones’ side. “I think they were very good against Italy, definitely: they showed they’ve got some incredible players across the park. We all know after watching them over the last 12 months that they’re a force to be reckoned with.

“We’re going to have to be at our best. We’d have to be above 95 per cent, I’d say, at least [to win]. At least.”

When players do not get international recognition for a while, the cliche is to talk of them being frozen out, and when they come back, we often think that a thaw in relations must have been produced by a rejuvenation on the field. But Denton says he never felt excluded; nor does he think that there has been a radical change in his style of play, believing that the main difference over the past couple of seasons – in addition, that is, to regaining real match fitness – has been better mental preparation.

“I was in constant contact with them,” he said of the Scotland camp during that time when he was not being picked. “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 [2016-17] I didn’t feel like myself at all.

“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.

“I’ve tried not to change my game on the pitch too much, but my preparation has been adapted over the past two years. I’ve worked hard on the mental side of the game. I’ve spoken to some good sports psychologists over the past couple of years – not regularly, just every now and then.

“It’s an interesting insight that I had never appreciated before. As I was getting older that was important to refocus when potentially you have things on your mind that you don’t have when you’re 22.

Improving Game

“Physically, in terms of the rugby, the big thing was that I went to a team – Bath under Mike Ford and Todd Blackadder as well – who played a very different style to the style I had played before.  At the time I was frustrated as it wasn’t getting the best from me, but I would say my skill set has improved greatly by working with these guys.

“I was forced to do it. To get a game at the weekend I had to improve those parts of my game, be better in the wide channels, more skilful, and distribute better. At the end of the day, the reason I will be selected for Scotland and my club is to get my head down and go forward. I won’t forget that. It’s about finding a balance.”

That balance has been well and truly found this season, resulting in his international recall as well as in that move to Leicester after a single season with Worcester. As he approaches the peak years of his career, Denton has every reason to face the future with confidence.

“It’s very exciting,” he said of the move from the Warriors to the Tigers. “That’s the other side of the argument when you’re sat down and you’re not playing very much and you’re injured: you’re not really sure what your future’s going to be or what clubs you’re going to be at. So when the opportunity came for me to go to Leicester, particularly to sign a three-year deal was big for me, so I can settle down with the club and really dig my roots in. I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s been a great month, and do you know what? I’m really grateful to . . .  I don’t know who, but I’m grateful. I did learn how quickly things can change in professional sport, and they did for me. All of a sudden, you’ve been injured for a bit and you’re out of favour with the national team – I wasn’t sure what I was doing club-wise – and then for me to get a run of games together, get back playing for Scotland and then sign a long-term deal with a huge club like Leicester was great.”

The man with the man bun

In the end, of course, all this polite tiptoeing around the main topic had to end. As the press conference at Oriam was about to close, one of our number plucked up the courage to stop asking nonsensical questions about rugby, and instead focus on the burning issue of the moment: does Denton think of his elaborate coiffure as a top knot or a man bun?

“Maybe a man bun,” he replied. “I’ll stick with the man bun.

“My cousin gave me pelters. I’ve been getting a lot of stick, particularly from the family. It’s a bit like Marmite, I think – well, in fact, not many people love it. It’s mostly the  hate side involved. It’s the good side for me, then everyone else thinks it’s shit.

“No, do you know what? It’s a bit of a change for me. A bit of a laugh.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.