David Denton retires at 29 on medical grounds

Concussion forces 42-cap forward to quit playing

David Denton won his 40th cap for Scotland against Canada.
David Denton won his 40th cap for Scotland against Canada. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

DAVID Denton has retired from rugby aged just 29 as a result of a concussion sustained while playing nearly a year ago. Capped 42 times by Scotland, the Leicester Tigers back-row forward had known for some time that the injury last October could have serious consequences for his career, and last week he received definitive medical advice that he should not play again. 

“There were mixed emotions,” Denton told The Times newspaper this morning. “Part of it was relief. I have had this thing hanging over me for a long time now.”

Born in Zimbabwe, Denton qualified to play for Scotland through his Glaswegian mother. He joined Edinburgh Rugby in 2010, made his Test debut the following year, then in 2015 moved to Bath.

He moved again to Worcester in 2017, then signed a three-year contract with Leicester last summer. He was playing his sixth game for the club when the injury occurred: in attempting to tackle Northampton’s Cobus Reinach, his temple hit against the scrum-half’s hip bone. Although he initially hoped to make a reasonably quick return to playing, he soon realised that things would not be that simple, and then came to understand that retirement on medical grounds was becoming more and more probable.

“Since the injury I have woken up every morning with pressure in my head and visual disturbances and not really knowing what is going on,” Denton said in The Times. “Pretty much for that whole time I’ve been assuming that next week I will be better. Every time I tried to go through the comeback protocol, I’d fail. I’ve tried everything but nothing’s worked.

“Over the last couple of months, as I felt this coming closer, I had convinced myself that I was fine with it. But as it got closer my symptoms started to get worse. Subconsciously I was getting more and more worked up. At least now I know where I stand.

“I am a very positive person and try to stay that way but it can get quite dark at times. Since I was 14 my identity has been built around being a sportsman, a rugby player. That is who I am. Now, overnight, the circumstance for that identity has gone.”

Denton’s dynamism and physicality would have ensured that, had he remained fit, he would have been in Gregor Townsend’s plans for some time to come. Indeed, the Scotland coach said today that even after the injury he had hoped that Denton would be able to get involved with the World Cup training squad.

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“We’re really disappointed that someone who still had a lot to offer the game both at club level and for Scotland hasn’t been able to do that, but our first thoughts are with his health and his life beyond rugby and it seems to be the right decision to retire,” Townsend said in an SRU statement. “We were hoping that taking some time out of the game would mean he would be available for selection in our World Cup training squad, and when that didn’t happen we were hopeful he’d be back for next season, but again that’s not happened.

“We’re going to miss him with Scotland. He played very well last summer after being involved in the Six Nations, playing really well in that game against Argentina and getting back to the form he was in at the last World Cup. As coaches we really enjoyed working with Dave over the years and we wish him all the best in life after rugby.”

That 44-15 win in Argentina last June was one of Scotland’s most impressive away performances for some time, and in retrospect means that Denton ended his international career on a high note. Even so, that is scant consolation for this abrupt conclusion to his career, especially as he has been forced to retire just as many of his former team-mates are in Japan preparing for the World Cup.

“I so want the boys to do well and I would so want to be there but obviously that is not going to happen,” Denton added. “It is important to me that I don’t look back with sadness at what could have been, instead look forward and remain proud of what has been. The idea of never being able to run out in front of 70,000 people at Murrayfield again is not enjoyable.

“There was a lot more I wanted to achieve. All of a sudden I am not able to do that. Ironically the perspective I have gained from this injury has put me in the best mental state I have ever been in terms of being able to perform. But I am never going to be able to use that in rugby.”

Denton now plans to move back to Edinburgh with his partner and their young son. He sees his future in business. “Coaching, as a career, was never something that appealed to me,” he added.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 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.