Scotland No.8 David Denton has dismissed claims the Rugby World Cup could fall flat due to hosts England’s early exit – and hailed its generally competitive group stages as a “massive step forward” for the sport.
The Edinburgh Rugby back row has been one of his team’s most consistent performers so far and will look to lead them into a quarter-final place with victory over Samoa at St James’s Park on Saturday.
While England were stunned by consecutive losses to Wales and Australia, the Scots moved into a position of power in Group B by dredging up fine second-half displays to see off the USA and Japan before crumpling 34-16 to South Africa in Newcastle.
Denton said: “I’ve never been involved in a World Cup before, but I’ve watched all of them as a kid and this World Cup has been incredible in terms of crowds even for the small games. I really hope it continues even though the hosts are gone.
“The big difference is those teams previously considered minnows are no longer that – every game is tough. The gap has been bridged and that is great for world rugby and a massive step forward for the game.”
Despite the huge strides shown by the likes of Japan, USA and Canada, Saturday’s opponents Samoa – long considered one of the strongest second tier nations – have already been eliminated from the tournament.
Their 26-5 loss to Japan last week leaves them with nothing to play for but pride against the Scots on Saturday – but Denton insists his own team will be on their guard against a physical backlash from the Pacific islanders.
Denton added: “This is the match that has been billed from the start of the tournament as the big one and for most of the players it is going to be the biggest game of our careers – effectively a play-off to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.
“We are fully aware the Samoans are not going to switch off and take it for granted – if we were in the same position we would not do that either, and we know they will be coming here to win.
“But we’ve been cast as favourites for our first two games and we’ve dealt with it quite well, playing intelligent rugby early then going on and scoring lots of tries. The difference here is that we have got to stop them getting out of the blocks.”
Coach Vern Cotter’s decision to make 11 changes for the South Africa game kept his side’s chances of an upset to a minimum, but despite flashes of second-half optimism there is a feeling in the Scotland camp they did not do themselves justice.
Once again the Scottish habit of starting sluggishly cost them dear and by the time Tommy Seymour touched down after Duncan Weir’s 80-yard run, the game was already effectively over.
Denton added: “It was certainly a good performance by the Springboks who came and imposed their game on us but from now on it has got to be the other way round – we have got to impose ourselves on Samoa.
“We know it is going to be a massive Test match and we know that Samoa are not going to step away from it by any means just because they’ve been knocked out, and we have to be ready for that.”