Evans: Lions' only hope is to maul All Blacks into submission and target Barrett
Nick Evans, one of the most influential overseas signings in the history of the Aviva Premiership, steps out for Harlequins against league leaders Wasps tonight in his final game at the Stoop with the belief that English rugby is catching up with the skill levels of his native New Zealanders.
The 36-year-old former All Black out-half intends to preach what he has practised for the past nine years, moving into coaching with a view to honing the future talent pool in the English game.
"It's been refreshing to see the change in outlook in the time that I've been here, with a switch from the set-piece, forward-orientated style that was the norm to much more of a ball-in-hand approach," said Evans, who will be on the touchline tomorrow in his capacity as coach at Wimbledon RFC as they face Ding Crusaders for a place in National Two.
"It had to happen. At lower levels, there is still some way to go to match the Kiwis, but at a higher level, through the U-18s and U-20s, you can see that it is there.
"Skill is what it is all about from a very young age in New Zealand. It is hammered into them: catch and pass, recognise the space, execute the three-on-two, see the picture early.
"There are skilful kids coming through now and that does bode well, even if I believe the All Blacks will be too good for the Lions. It'll be close in each Test, but I take them to win the series, 3-0."
Evans is 'surprised' that Harlequins team-mates Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown did not make the Lions squad but feels that those chosen by Warren Gatland will take the game to the All Blacks.
"They have got to take on the All Blacks at the maul, which is not well defended by New Zealand teams, and then go down (out-half) Beauden Barrett's channel as often as they can," said Evans. "Barrett is the most devastating player in the world if you give him space. The Lions have got to take the sting out of his attack."
Evans turned his back on the All Blacks when he signed for Harlequins in 2008. A talented all-round sportsman, he made his international debut against England in 2004, but was in the slipstream of Dan Carter, so decided to go offshore.
Within 12 months of arriving at Harlequins, Evans found himself embroiled in the Bloodgate scandal as the goal-kicker whom then director of rugby, Dean Richards, wanted to get back on the field, and resorted to fake blood capsules to do so. It was a crisis that rocked the club to its core.
Any second thoughts at that point about the decision to come to England?
"It wasn't nice, of course it wasn't, and people paid a heavy price," said Evans, unwittingly summoned from the sidelines. "Decisions were made on the day, poor decisions. I was shell-shocked and there was a fallout. There was a lot of ill-feeling to the club.
"But the players stuck together, came through it all and that tight-knit attitude served us well in the coming years. We took it on the chin, as we had to do."
Evans was the hired hand brought in to help direct the team on and off the field. The upheaval set the club back but, within a year, Harlequins had their first piece of silverware, the European Challenge Cup, Evans winning the man of the match award as Stade Francais were beaten 19-18 in Cardiff.
That was the first of a succession of trophies under Conor O'Shea, the coveted Premiership title following 12 months later.
"The club wanted me to help win cups and titles," said Evans. "We did that, but we haven't quite followed it through. But it's been a great experience, gone in the blink of an eye."
Evans is determined to end on a high.
"Champions Cup rugby next season is what we want, and to get that we will almost certainly have to beat Wasps," said Evans, whose team lie in seventh place with only two points between the three clubs vying for that last automatic spot.
"It will be an emotional night, but the key thing is that there is a job to be done." (© Daily Telegraph, London)