PIVOTAL back-row pairing of Rennie and Denton share a background at the scene of rugby’s first-ever international contest
Both have strong Edinburgh Accies connections although they have never played in tandem at Raeburn Place or anywhere else for Scotland’s oldest rugby club. Nevertheless, an understanding developed between openside flanker Ross Rennie, who was educated at the Academy and spent a year in the senior side before moving on, and No. 8 Dave Denton, who arrived at the club from Zimbabwe due to family links, that will be a key element in Scotland’s bid to defeat England and lift the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield today.
This is acknowledged by Andy Robinson and while stopping well short of indicating that the fact the pair have started seven games together in Edinburgh Rugby’s back row was a decisive factor in selection, the national coach does say: “It helps a little bit David and Ross are used to working together and know the lines each are [used to] running.”
Rennie, who will be gaining his 12th cap by making what is only his second international start and the first at Murrayfield, agrees, and so far as prospects of landing an Edinburgh Accies one-two on England are concerned, he says: “Being familiar with players you are playing alongside regardless of the opposition is a good thing. In these little combinations [within the team], playing with people you know and knowing how they play helps your game as well as theirs.
“I’m delighted for Dave on his first start as I am for our new cap, Lee Jones.”
The last time Denton and Rennie appeared side by side was in Edinburgh’s crucial 27-24 Heineken European Cup success at Racing Metro which was marked by Denton’s super solo try from outside the home “22” in a sprint that would have done a winger proud. Prior to that, in the annual inter-city derby with Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield, it was Rennie who crossed for a touchdown.
Referring to colleague Denton’s emergence as an RBS Six Nations player one day before his 22nd birthday on Sunday, Rennie says: “Dave is an exciting talent and obviously one of our key guys in trying to go forward. We’ll be trying to give him the ball in order to make ground.”
One of Rennie’s other duties will be to support any stand-off breaks and “generally link between the forwards and the backs”.
So far as keeping in Dan Parks’ slipstream is concerned, Rennie believes the Cardiff player’s communication skills are especially helpful.
“Dan chats a lot and that helps my lines of running,” he says.
If Jones and, to a lesser extent, Denton, who has one cap as a sub from the World Cup warm-up Test against Ireland, are new to the scene then that is nothing to England’s three rookies, plus a captain in Chris Robshaw with only 80 minutes of international action behind him.
According to Rennie, though, that makes the Auld Enemy even more dangerous because of the “unknown factor” with Charlie Hodgson being England’s most capped player with 36.
“We have not been able to do as much analysis on this opposition as would normally be done and the fact they are so much of an unknown quantity makes it a bit dangerous in some senses.
“We have done some homework, though, and the fact England have five boys from the Saracens club is something we can draw on. However, any team England field is going to be tough to beat.
“It would be stupid to think any England side wouldn’t be physical.
“If we win the collision battle and get set-piece ball in those circumstances there will be a good chance us forwards will have done our job.
“Then the go-forward ball will be used to create space that will hopefully give Lee Jones the chance to show what he can do.
“One thing’s for sure: as a winger, Lee will go looking for ball as that is one of his strengths, and, so far as a first cap is concerned, he’ll take the occasion in his stride.
“It really is great for all of us to have the first match of this RBS Six Nations at Murrayfield. As well as a great challenge meeting England, it also offers the chance of a great platform for the rest of the campaign.”
In order to make a winning start, though, Scotland will have to overcome the weight of history having only once made a winning start – against France in 2006 – since the competition was increased from five to six teams with the introduction of Italy.