Rugby World Cup: Scotland props WP Nel and Allan Dell pay tribute to David Denton following his concussion retirement
Two of David Denton’s former Edinburgh team-mates took time to pay tribute to their friend in Tokyo yesterday as Scotland look ahead to their Rugby World Cup Pool A opening blockbuster against world No 1 side Ireland in Yokohama on Sunday.
The South Africa-born duo of tighthead WP Nel and loosehead Allan Dell expressed sadness that the Zimbabwe-born Denton has had to call time on his playing career after suffering his latest long-term concussion problem at his club Leicester Tigers.
The 29-year-old enjoyed one of the best periods of his 42-cap career representing Scotland at the 2015 World Cup in England and made a big impression on the props who played with him during his five years at the capital pro-team.
“It was quite unexpected for me,” said Nel of Denton’s news. “I know he struggled with the concussion thing, but he was an amazing player – he did a lot for Edinburgh, he played well and when he pulled the thistle on he was amazing.
“He had worked hard so hard to get back to his best playing conditions, he came on tour last summer [to North America and Argentina] and was back to his best, so it’s definitely not pleasing to see that happen because he’s still young.
“I think David said that he did work at the beginning of his time out of the game with the emotion and he made peace with the decision, knowing that he’s not going to come back, not going to pull his boots on again.
“I think it’s a journey and you need the right people around you. With my injury a lot of things went through my mind and you’re thinking, I’ve got a young family and what am I going to do after rugby.”
Nel’s own long-term lay-off was with a worrying neck injury which, in his intensely physical position, he knew could easily have ended his career.
“If you’d said I’d be here two or three years ago I’d probably have laughed,” said Nel. “It’s made every little bit of hard work and everything you put into getting fit again worth it. I’m fortunate to be here.
“That was the hardest part, but as you go on through that journey, speak to other people who have also struggled and get a bit of inspiration, it becomes easier to get your head around. I was able to get a good environment, my family around me and got myself into a good space again.”
Dell, who departs Edinburgh for London Irish after this tournament, insisted the ongoing concussion issue in the sport is not something that plays on his mind.
“I’m not too worried. It is a physical game – a contact sport – injuries are going to happen,” said the 27-year-old. “We’re all going to go through it to some extent, and unfortunately for some people they have that misfortune of having to retire as a consequence, but I know Dave has the social skills and ability that whatever he does after rugby he will be a success at. It is sad that someone who is still only 29-years-old, with a lot to offer, has had to give up.”
In the meantime, Nel and Dell have the small matter of focusing on the intense scrum challenge against Ireland in Yokohama as they are poised to lock horns with familiar foes once again in the formidable form of the likes of Jack Conan and Tadhg Furlong in the always pivotal pack battle.
“We’ve done well in recent times against them at set-piece. Again, it is just about being on the ball,” said Dell. “If you lose concentration for one second they’ll capitalise on that, which will give them momentum, and we know how dangerous they are once they get momentum. So, it is just about being switched on the whole time, and with the old man next to you – WP – it makes it very easy.”
Of course, nobody is expecting anything to come easy on Sunday against the world’s No 1 team, however, Nel insisted Scotland won’t dwell on their opponents’ status ahead of this massive game.
“I’m a strong believer that we don’t play rugby on rankings. It’s on the day, and anything can happen,” said the 33-year-old.
“Obviously they are an experienced pack, good forwards, and it’s going to be a challenge. But we play them in the Guinness Pro14, we play them in the Six Nations, we play so much we basically know each other. We have a good pack too, and we need to show what we have.”