The lid has finally been lifted on one of the most mystifying decisions of a Scotland international rugby season which ended at the weekend with that 6-55 defeat by South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
Back in February, the Scots opened their home Six Nations campaign against England and, despite giving what was widely perceived as a storming display, back row David Denton was suddenly substituted with more than a quarter of the match to run. The decision provoked an outcry in some quarters and, scarcely able to conceal his frustration afterwards, No.8 Denton reacted in the correct way by going on to become the only Scot named in the official “team of the tournament”.
Now the Edinburgh star, who missed the recent tour of three continents as he recovered from concussion sustained at the end of the domestic programme, has shed light during an interview given by the player back in his native Zimbabwe to blogger Bobby Chanakira.
“I went to speak to Jonno (then Scotland coach Scott Johnson) after the game and he explained the tactical reasoning and how they needed a ball-playing loosie (back row) after a yellow card (for centre Alex Dunbar). Fair enough, but it was tough,” said Denton who concedes his demeanour wasn’t improved by being left out of the starting line-up immediately afterwards for the only match Scotland won – away to Italy, although he did make a substitute appearance in Rome.
“I was dropped for the Italy clash and that p***** me off,” he said.
The fact that Denton’s replacement in that 0-20 loss to England – Johnny Beattie – arrived on the pitch while all three back subs were still track-suited on the bench, will strike many as muddying the waters a bit.
Typically, though, Denton was able to find a positive after bouncing back against France.
“The most important accolade was learning that I can’t rest on my laurels, a situation that returned my focus and helps me continue to push to be the best player I can,” he said.
What certainly comes through is the admiration Denton feels for previous Scotland coach, Andy Robinson, who awarded him a first cap in the 2011 World Cup warm-up clash with Ireland at Murrayfield then included him in the subsequent Six Nations series.
“Andy believed in me and on my (starting) debut said this to me, ‘you’re not going out there to add numbers or be ordinary. Go be the best’. I went out and was named man of the match.
“I was sad to see him (Robinson) go and hope to work with him in the future. That sort of belief is special for a player,” said Denton, who signed a contract extension last season keeping him at Edinburgh until after next year’s World Cup.
As for the last Six Nations, Denton recalled: “It was disappointing for all of us. We felt we took a step back. We felt we should have won that game against France (lost 17-19) and if we had won, it’s a different campaign.
“We are building for the World Cup and we are in a tough group. I feel we can get out and our young team keeps developing.
“Realistic expectation would be making the quarter-finals or the semi-finals. We need to get out our group. I think every player deserves to have a good World Cup and that is my aim.
“I also hope to make the British and Irish Lions. I was disappointed to miss the last one (to Australia in 2013). I had less than 15 games under my belt in an injury-ravaged season. I had no chance to try make the squad and that’s what got to me. Unfortunately, that’s sport. Hopefully, after a World Cup appearance, I can aim to play for them in their next tour (to New Zealand in 2017.”
As for Scotland’s latest tour, which ended with the heaviest for 17 years, Denton is adamant there will be long-term benefits.
“We only had a few of our regular players but a couple guys have raised their hands. Depth is building and – bar injuries – I feel our best fifteen can compete with any nation in the world. This is an aspect South Africa, New Zealand, etc have an advantage on us in terms of depth.”
Meanwhile, Scotland’s overall record for last season ended at P15 W6 L9.