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The boy who became a Man of the Match . . .

Dave Denton turned 24 on Wednesday and, in the quasi-monastic surroundings of the Scotland team hotel in Edinburgh, his celebrations were presumably restrained.

Dave Denton won the Man of the Match award in the game against England two years ago. Picture: PA
Dave Denton won the Man of the Match award in the game against England two years ago. Picture: PA

But if his hands are on the Calcutta Cup at the end of this evening, it is fair to say that he won't be quaffing protein drinks long into the night.

His age now means that Denton is a proper grown-up player, entering the middle period of his career, not the precocious phenomenon he was as he burst on to the international scene a couple of seasons ago. And there is a sense of completing a circle today as he looks forward to the fixture in which he announced himself to the wider rugby world in February 2012.

Strictly speaking, it was not his Test debut, as he had made a cameo appearance in Scotland's World Cup warm-up match against Ireland the previous August, but it was a performance in which he lived up to all the hype he had been creating beforehand. It is a rare thing for a player to finish on the losing side and then be handed the Man of the Match award. Rare, too, for that accolade to be given to a player in his first international start. But that was how it was for Denton.

Small wonder that he should relish another match with England on the same pitch. "It's a game I'll never forget," he said of that match two years ago. "I got that man of the match, although I think I've played games equally as well, against New Zealand and South Africa. I've had a few good games, but because that was my first start, and to play at Murrayfield in a Six Nations game against England - there's nothing like it. You [press] guys have been to loads of them, but for us as players it's completely different. It's crazy.

"It's more the way that the fans react to it. The Six Nations as a whole is an incredible competition for us, because all the countries involved buy into it, all the stadiums sell out and it's an incredible atmosphere. But the England game in particular - people reckon we could sell out this game three times over at Murrayfield. That's the level of interest it sparks for us."

There is, though, a significant difference between then and now. At the tail end of 2011, England had been a team in crisis after a World Cup that had unfolded as a litany of calamities and farce, and after the brutal exposure of rampant indiscipline in the report that followed. Scotland, having failed to make the quarter-finals in the tournament for the first time, were not in much better shape, but Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors were going well and there was stability in the squad.

In short, Scotland seemed to be on the rise. England - with a new and inexperienced coach, and with a host of Test debutants - looked vulnerable. And, with Denton well to the fore, both seemed to be following their scripts when they met.

To many, it is still a mystery that Scotland managed to lose, their domination of possession and territory producing just two penalties as they went down 13-6.

The backdrop today is far different. It is England who are on the up. They may have lost 26-24 in Paris a week ago, but they showed fire and commitment and organisation to get into a winning position just a few minutes from the end -the same traits which were so lacking in Scotland's performance as Ireland humbled them 28-6 in Dublin the next day.

Yet Denton believes that Scotland were far better, and can be better still, than that game in the Aviva Stadium suggested. "When we were in attack we looked really good at times, particularly in the first half," he suggested. "We had a good amount of possession and when we had the ball going forward we were getting over the gain line.

"Johnno [head coach Scott Johnson] said after the game that he struggled to find something to explain why we lost when he looked at the stats. But further looking into it, the main issue for us was the conversion rate. We were getting into great positions in the first half but just not converting those opportunities, and I think that's what we've got to learn as a side to do."

There is probably a more scientific way to explain this, more coaching gobbledegook which can be employed, but Scotland were also stuffed at the breakdown. As his middle name is Kipling, you might think that Denton would have a talent for turnovers, but responsibility for that aspect of the game rests more obviously with Chris Fusaro, the flanker who has taken the No.7 shirt from ousted captain Kelly Brown.

A more pertinent reference - as the poet was a distant relation - might be that Denton's job is to fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, with the sort of all-action performance that brought him to prominence in the first place.

"We had a tough meeting with Humph [forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys] on Monday," said the No.8. "We, as a pack, let the team down in certain areas and it's something we're looking to amend. We've got a lot of work to do to earn the respect back from our fellow players first of all, and then from everybody else.

"From our point of view as players, the hope's not gone. A match turns on very small things and at the end of that first half in Dublin we had a chance to go in 6-3 down. We were more than happy to be away from home with that score.

"Anything could have happened, particularly if I had got over the line earlier in the game. So we're not that disappointed in what we did. But there are areas that we definitely need to shore up and the area where we knew Ireland would target us in particular was the tackle area. We need to make sure against England that we front up."

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