One of the busiest players in Australia last year, it was easy to forget by the end of 2012 that DAVE DENNIS had been a first year Test player.
Not only had he appeared in every game played by the NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby, Dennis went on to become one of only two players, along with Nathan Sharpe, to feature in all 15 Tests played by the Qantas Wallabies in 2012.
Just being available for all 15 of Australia’s Tests was some achievement, given that the level of the injury toll was such that the Qantas Wallabies were forced to employ an unprecedented 41 different bodies through the full program.
The record was testament, both to Dennis’ durability, but also to his tenacious attitude – and his versatility, in terms of being able to cover blindside flanker, lock and No.8.
Named captain of the NSW Waratahs for the 2013 season, Dennis was again Mr. Reliable as he missed just one of Super Rugby fixture and was named in the Qantas Wallabies initial 25-man squad for the British & Irish Lions Test series.
While not selected for any of the three Tests, Dennis was released from camp temporarily to allow him to captain the Waratahs against the Lions in front of a packed house.
Dennis’ 15 Tests in 2012 were capped by a remarkably strong finish as he put himself in the right place to support and provide the last pass in the break that led to Kurtley Beale’s match-winning try in the final moments of Australia’s last Test of the year in Cardiff. The win provided a fitting end to the career of legendary Wallaby Nathan Sharpe.
By the end of that match, his debut against Scotland in front of his family on a treacherous night in Newcastle seemed almost a lifetime away.
Eight of the appearances in his freshman season were starting roles, with a further seven coming from the bench.
The 27-year-old Sydney University loose forward was first introduced to the Wallabies set-up as a midweek inclusion four years ago on the 2009 Spring Tour. He appeared as a blindside flanker during the midweek wins over Gloucester and the Cardiff Blues on that trip.?
Dennis was a key figure as the Waratahs reached the semi-final qualifiers in the 2011 Super Rugby competition, with his efforts recognised when he was included in the initial Qantas Wallabies squad of 40 for the domestic Test season.
Inclusion in the Australian Barbarians for the 38-14 win over the Rugby World Cup-bound Canada followed, with Dennis impressing on the blindside flank against a side which went on to perform well at the tournament in New Zealand.
Although that didn’t prove enough to gain one of the hotly contested loose forward positions for the Rugby World Cup squad, Dennis was rewarded for his efforts by a second Spring Tour at the end of 2011, where he excelled starting from No.8 in the Qantas Wallabies’ record 60-11 trouncing of the Barbarians at Twickenham.
The confidence gained from that trip showed through last year, firstly at the Waratahs where the signing of ex-Test captain Rocky Elsom, and the return to full fitness of Wycliff Palu, failed to prevent Dennis from nailing down a regular loose forward starting role. That led to Wallaby selection and an overdue introduction to Test ranks where he proved himself to be one of Australia’s most dependable forwards.
Dennis first made his mark by playing three matches for the Australian Schoolboys in 2004 while attending Richmond High School. He then joined the Waratahs development program after his schools career ended, graduating to Super Rugby ranks in 2007 when he made his debut for the ‘Tahs against the then Robbie Deans-coached Crusaders. Unfortunately that appearance, where NSW lost narrowly, provided his only Super Rugby experience prior to his inclusion on the Wallaby tour two years later, with the increased profile within the Waratahs following in the time since.
The early years of Dennis’ professional career were severely handicapped by breakage, with an injury to the left knee ending his 2007 season after he had played for the Melbourne Rebels in the sole season of the Australian Rugby Championship. Unfortunately his right knee then blew out in his first training session back in 2008, which saw further surgery required – ruining that year.
Dennis had featured in the championship-winning Sydney University club squad of 2007. He went on to help coach the club’s Under-21 side to title glory in 2008, before returning to duty with both Uni and the Waratahs a year later. Uni won the third of its four successive club titles in 2009, with Dennis locking the students scrum alongside his fellow 2011 Wallaby Spring tourist, Ben McCalman. Both have since specialised as loose forwards vying for the same place in the Test side.
A strong performance against Randwick in the 2009 Shute Shield club final helped seal a place for Dennis on that year’s Wallaby Spring tour.
FAST FACT: As a coach of the championship-winning Sydney University Colts (Under-21) side of 2008, Dave Dennis had, amongst his charge, his Qantas Wallabies team-mate from last year, halfback Nick Phipps, as well as the NSW Waratahs and Australian Sevens playmaker Bernard Foley.