Nick Evans interview: Eager to make history with Harlequins
When Nick Evans signed a three-year deal last November to stay with Harlequins, it was not only a show of affection for the club where he has been since 2008, but also a signal of intent.
With his contract up at the end of this season, the former All Black was tipped to join the exodus to France with the lure of a lucrative deal from a Top 14 club or even Japan.
Few would have been surprised had the 32-year-old made the switch. After all, Ireland’s mercurial fly-half Jonny Sexton has just announced he will be quitting Leinster for a French club, probably Racing Metro, in the summer. But happiness and hope proved decisive in the decision of Evans to commit to Quins.
“A lot of people thought I’d go to France and I guess that comes with the territory.” he says. “When you get a bit older, like myself, and you get to your early 30s, it definitely does cross your mind. You think would it be easier to go across and make some money before your time is up.
“But for me I just enjoy myself here. I didn’t want to go to another club where I wasn’t going to enjoy myself, go to France and sit in the pocket and take drop goals all the time.
“The great thing about being at Quins is we try to score tries and that’s how I like to play my game as well. I want to be attacking and see guys score tries and be part of a club that has that ambition. We (Evans and wife Sally) have our first baby on the way too and decided we would enjoy ourselves a lot more by staying at Quins and being part of this great club.
“Enjoyment is a big issue for me and I think I made the right decision coming here.
“I came to a club where I saw a future at and winning trophies was a big thing. We have been through highs, lows, and it makes you want to get the best out of the job.”
This season could well become an unforgettable one as Quins chase an unprecedented trophy treble. As well as being joint-top of the Premiership with Leicester – who they face this weekend – they have a last-eight date with Munster at the Stoop in the Heineken Cup and host Bath in the LV=Cup semi finals.
No English club has achieved that. In football, though, Manchester United did in 1999, and are in the throes of a similar attempt again this season with the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League the target. The stature and dominance of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side is something Evans would love for Quins to achieve in rugby.
“I’m not really a football supporter, but since I’ve been over here in England, I do watch Manchester United and do admire them for always being at the top and competing for trophies and striving for success,” he adds.
“That is the mentality we are trying to build at this club and become part of it. We are still in the early days and we have to back up what we did last year. To be compared to rugby’s Man United you need to be producing year in, year out. It’s a target – that’s a team we want to be like. Our big goal is to be the best club team in the world.
“A treble is something we don’t think about as players, but it’s something that’s there and we believe we can do it. We focus game by game to keep our eye on the ball, but that doesn’t lead us to underestimate our ability.”
On the subject of United, Evans could well be seen as the Robin van Persie for Quins – a world-class player bringing experience and excellence to a side packed with international stars. He laughs at that suggestion and knows he has bad days as well as good.
Last weekend, a missed penalty in the closing minutes saw Quins pipped 17-16 at home to Wasps. Evans admits the No10 fly-half role is probably the toughest job in rugby.
But he tells Sport360°: “Good fly-halves thrive on that and love that kind of pressure.
“A kick to win the game is one of the best feelings you can ever have. A lot of people might see it as scary or nervous because there’s so much pressure and so much at stake.
“But, for me, it’s an exciting part of the game. It’s exciting to be in that role and making decisions that decide a game.
“Believe me I’m well aware you can have good days and bad days and sometimes you get the kick or sometimes you don’t. It’s part of being a fly-half. The greatest tool a fly-half has got is experience.
“When you are young, you rely on that game-breaking ability and being someone that other people haven’t seen before and making new breaks; going off pure enjoyment and skill level and talent. But the older you get the more experience you have and the more decisions people expect you to get right.
“You cope with the pressure. When I first came over I knew I had a lot left in me, and had a lot to prove to myself and people here.
“A lot of people think players who come from overseas are only here for the pay cheque, but I wanted to prove that wasn’t the case and live up to the expectation of an overseas player and one from New Zealand.
“I’m a pretty proud person and don’t like to let myself down or let my team-mates down.”
BORN: North Shore City, New Zealand, on August 14, 1980
HOBBIES: Fishing – nicknamed “Snapper” – and golf.
CLUB CAREER: North Harbour 2001-04
Otago Highlanders 2004-07
Auckland Blues 2007-08
INTERNATIONAL CAREER: New Zealand 2004-07. He won 16 caps and scored 103 points. His last Test for the All Blacks was the 20-18 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France in 2007.
ON NOT PLAYING INTERNATIONAL RUGBY: “I do miss international rugby a bit when I watch the Tests and things like Six Nations. I had some great times with the All Blacks and went to a World Cup. I do miss it, but it’s been replaced by the enjoyment of being part of a club that’s going places. That matches my ambitions about rugby and how to play the game. I would be missing internationals a lot more if I was at a club where I wasn’t doing that.”