DAVID Denton’s enforced retirement at the age of 29 brings a premature end to one of the most impressive careers of any Scotland international since the turn of the century.

His tally of 42 caps may not be exceptional in an age where it is common for a national side to play 10 or more Tests per year: what was exceptional was his ability to keep up his own high standards in adversity as well as when the going was good.

That ability can be an inspiration to Denton’s former team-mates in Japan who are preparing for the start of the World Cup. There are sure to be times over the coming weeks when Scotland are on the front foot and everything is going well, but it is at least as likely there will be occasions, whether during group matches or in the knockout stages, when they are really up against it.


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Denton’s strength of character was never more evident than on his first start for his country: the Calcutta Cup clash of 2012, which ended in a 13-6 win for an inexperienced England side led for the first time by interim coach Stuart Lancaster.

Scotland were dire that day, and the game as a whole was not much better.

But Denton was something else, rampaging into the opposition whenever he got possession, and putting in a power of work in defence, too. To maintain your own form when all about you are losing theirs can be one of the hardest tasks in sport, but the No.8 made it look effortless.

No wonder, then, that after announcing his retirement on medical advice following concussion, Denton singled out that game, in which he was named man of the match, as he looked back on his time in the sport.

“It was a real watershed moment for me,” he said yesterday. “It was the culmination of everything I had been striving for since I was a kid. It set me up for the rest of my career.

“My reputation, my name, was built around that game. Maybe it was my age, but I was so blindly confident in my own ability at that time. I spent a good part of my career trying to find that state of mind again.”

No matter how elusive it might have been at times in some of the years that followed, Denton certainly rediscovered that state of mind in what would turn out to be his last international appearance, the 44-15 win over Argentina in June of last year.

Scotland looked like being on a hiding to nothing in that game, their last of three on a short summer tour.

The good work done in the opening win over Canada had been undone by a loss to the United States a week later, and now here they were, just 80 minutes away from their holidays. The beach was calling, the venue for the week leading up to the Test against the Pumas had been uninspiring, and the ground in the northern city of Resistencia was packed with home fans who were ready to scream their team on to victory.


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In short, it was a hostile environment, and the players might have retreated into their shells, as they have been known to do in too many away games in recent years. Instead, they came flying out of the blocks and had the match in the bag well before half-time.

Of course, summer friendlies can be dismissed as inconsequential, but there was an enduring lesson from that result – namely, Scotland’s immunity from the pressures that might ordinarily have been expected to intimidate them in the build-up to, and during, an away fixture.

Naturally, Denton was not alone in standing up to be counted that afternoon, but his on-field leadership was still a significant factor in his team’s domination.

That was not the last time Scotland enjoyed a good away win – only last month in Tbilisi, they put in a performance against Georgia that was every bit as good. But in the 15 months since the Argentina game they have also shown they can still be cowed by alien surroundings, with the heavy defeat in the first World Cup warm-up match in Nice a particularly glaring recent example.

With Denton in the side in the forthcoming games against Ireland, Russia, Samoa and Japan, Scotland would be that bit harder to intimidate, that bit more likely to impose themselves on their opponents.

Even allowing for the competition that now exists in the back row, his absence could be keenly felt – unless, that is, his former team-mates can draw inspiration from the example he so often set.

In association with The Offside Line