PLAYERS disappear from squads in stages. At first you know a certain name has been omitted because of injury. Then, when the absence continues, you just presume he is still injured. Finally, you don’t even notice the name is not there.
At least that is how it feels from the outside, with David Denton being a good case in point. At times the No 8 has indeed been injured – at quite a few times, in fact, and for sizeable stretches at that. But there have been other times, too, when he has simply not featured; when he has seemed to be in risk of getting left behind by a Scotland squad in which competition for back-row places is getting ever stiffer.
Such times may now be behind the 28-year-old, who is set to join up with new club Leicester Tigers next month after a single season with Worcester. While some previous summers have been spent back home recuperating from injury, this time Denton is on tour with Scotland and, having won his 40th cap in the 48-10 win over Canada, has taken on a bit of the air of a senior statesman.
“ I can’t even describe that feeling of being injured or just being back from injured and being at home on the couch watching the Six Nations or the Autumn Tests,” Denton said. “It leaves such a sour taste in your mouth, because you want to be there more than anything.
“When you’re younger you don’t think about it, you just go from game to game. I mean, I can’t believe I have played 40 games, it doesn’t feel like it. That period from 20 to 25 I hardly blinked, but now when you get older you really do appreciate every one. The challenge for me is to keep that edge. If I do start playing more regularly I still need to keep myself in that frame of mind.
“This season was massive for me. It was pretty much two years injured. The first one was a six-month injury and what that does, it destabilises your whole body, so I kept picking up niggle after niggle after niggle. I had another year on my contract at Bath, but I went to Worcester to go somewhere I could play a lot of rugby and get back into it – and I did.
“Coincidentally, I picked up an injury in my first-ever game there, but I played 25-odd games this season and that’s allowed me to get back to the situation I’m now in, to play for Scotland again, to sign a three-year deal with Leicester, to do all these things.
“I can’t wait to get started [at Leicester]. I’m not starting until the end of July, which is crazy. We have to get five weeks off. This is another opportunity for me to put in a bit of work and arrive at the club in the best shape of my life. I want to get there and make a statement.”
The dream touchdown
Before that he will have a chance to make another statement or two for Scotland against the United States here on Saturday and then against Argentina a week later. Victory in both games is the over-riding concern, of course, but that apart, what Denton would like most of all is to fulfill a long-held ambition and score a try for Scotland. He came close in Edmonton; in fact he has come close on quite a few occasions since his 2011 debut against Ireland; but so far he has not a single score to his name.
“It’s driving me crazy,” he admitted. “It never, ever used to piss me off, but recently I’ve been in pretty good try-scoring form for my club and I just cannot do it for Scotland.
“I thought I was going to score one [against Canada] and the bastard chopped my knees out from underneath me,” he said, laughing at the memory. “And I looked at the ref and said, ‘Come on mate, that would have been my first international try’.”
Many other established internationals have failed to score for their country, but on the whole those who approach the half-century of caps without a single try tend to be props. As a back-row forward who is adept at making short, dynamic runs, Denton is in an unusual position: so unusual, in fact, that he is now Scotland’s most-capped non-front-row forward not to score a try.
“Well, let’s not get that in the piece,” he said, laughing again. “Let’s keep that out.
“I’d like to score a try, but I’m not going to go out of a system, I’m not going to go rogue to do it. What I need to do is get myself into better positions in the 22 and it’ll come. It’s annoying me, but it’s not something that I’m going to change my game because of.”
It is annoying Denton, but also amusing his team-mates. Of course they would be perfectly happy for his drought to end, but, like the No 8 himself, they are not going to deviate from the game plan just to help him achieve it. So what sort of celebration does he plan if and when he does finally score?
“I’ve been talking it through with the boys and they say I can only do one if we’re a good margin up. Me and Ryan [Wilson, 37 caps, also nul points] get a lot of stick for this. He actually slipped under the radar for a little bit but then I pointed it out and said, ‘Hold on Wilson, you haven’t scored either!’ The boys give us a lot of stick, especially Barcs [John Barclay, 71 caps, six tries], because he’s fallen over from half a metre out a few times.”
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