Castres can lead Leinster a merry dance, insists Evans
Max Evans of Castres Olympique admits he’ll be nervous tonight ahead of tomorrow's clash with Leinster in the European Champions Cup.
But it won’t be the thoughts of Matt O’Connor’s men that will have him sweating - it’ll be watching his younger brother Thom strutting his stuff live on TV in front of millions of people on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.
The Evans brothers played together in the back line for Glasgow Warriors and Scotland before Thom’s career was cruelly cut short at the age of 24 by a spinal injury suffered in the 2010 Six Nations game against Wales, so Max is delighted that Thom has found a new stage on which to show off his fast feet.
“I do get pretty tense when I’m watching him on Strictly,” says Max.
“We’ve always been very close and we’ve always been very similar, but the one area where we differ is that he was always more theatrical. At school he did all the musicals. I’m going to admit I can cut a few shapes on the dance floor, but in terms of doing that onstage, I’ve never been a fan.”
The Leinster backs will be hoping Evans doesn’t throw too many shapes tomorrow at Stade Pierre-Antoine, where the versatile centre/winger has so far enjoyed a hugely successful three years, winning a Top 14 title in 2013 and reaching the final again last season.
But Leinster are facing something of a wounded animal in a Castres side under a lot of pressure domestically - they currently sit 12th in the league with just three wins in nine games. It looked as if they’d kick-started their season with a barnstorming 51-10 home win over Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble on October 4th, but they were back to square one the following week when Bordeaux-Begles spanked them 59-7 away.
Now Evans feels that they finally turned the corner in last weekend’s Champions Cup trip to The Stoop, even though Harlequins beat them 25-9.
“I was worried because of the way we’d been performing away from home,” he says. “But in the game against Harlequins there was a real intention to go out there and put in a performance after the Bordeaux game, which was embarrassing,” he says.
“And I could feel it on the pitch, the right attitude was there.
There’s definitely been a lack of attitude away from home. And even though the game got away from us in the second half, we showed against Harlequins that we can do it away from home. It’s simply a question of attitude. Of every European game I’ve played for Castres, I’ve never felt the attitude as positively as in that game against Harlequins.
And we can continue that attitude against Leinster.”
Indeed, any talk of Castres’s demise this season is a bit premature.
They haven’t been beaten in Stade Pierre-Antoine, and have always been formidable opponents on their home patch – they beat Leinster here in the pool stages back in 2008/09, and no visiting team has won there since Leinster did it last January.
Evans is 31 now and knows many of the Leinster players well from his four years at Glasgow, and with Scotland. He mentions Gordon D’arcy and Rob Kearney as two he particularly admires. “D’arcy is one of the best in world at the choke tackle. Whoever our centres are on the day, I’ll be telling them that to deal with him you’ve got to get in to him hard, you’ve got to not be too high.
And Rob Kearney is a very determined player. These guys are some of the best players in the world and you have to look at the threat they bring,” he says.
So where will the game be won and lost? Set pieces and the breakdown, says Evans. “If you look at where we lost the Harlequins game, you can’t win a game or compete in a game if you’re not winning your scrums, your line-outs. So we need to put that right.
"And another vital area, particularly against Leinster, is the breakdown. We’ve talked about their choke tackle. You also have to make sure you are there exceptionally quick at the rucks. They are very smart players, the Leinster team. If you are not switched on to the intelligence that they bring, you can get lost pretty quickly.”
Kearney is a pal off the pitch too – “Rob’s mum and dad have a place where my mum and dad have a place in Portugal, so I’ve seen him outside of rugby, we’ve played golf together.”
In fact, golf plays a large part in Evans’ life. The brothers grew up in Portugal where their dad runs a golf academy, and Max is actually a qualified PGA professional himself. “I took two years out of rugby after I played at Harlequins, when I was 22, 23, and started the PGA training, working at a golf club, then finished my third year when I was at Glasgow.”
Now he lives beside the golf course in Castres and is currently in the process of teaching the game to his wife. Is life as a professional golf teacher the plan for when he finally hangs up his rugby boots?
“Yes, I could go straight into teaching golf after I’ve finished rugby,” he says. “It’s great to have that option, but whether it’s what I’ll actually do, I don’t know.” Who knows, the dancing bug might bite him yet.