Former All Black Nick Evans amassed 2,249 points in a nine-year playing career at Harlequins and is now responsible for the team’s attack having switched from player to coach this season.
On making the switch, Evans told Pundit Arena:
“The biggest adjustment is getting used to a different week. I’ve had 17 years of a structured week – gym at this time, eat at this time, you have physio, a meeting, training – everything is scheduled out for you.
“Now there’s an adjustment to knowing what I need to do during a day and having to time manage it. I know a lot of people probably think, ‘Well that sounds just like a normal job!’ but I haven’t really had a normal job.”
Evans describes how as a player he would completely switch off after training, playing computer games in the early days or enjoying time with his kids in recent years. Now, the laptop screen beckons for constant analysis and inspiration as to how he can fine tune the Harlequins attack machine – his homework.
“As a coach I’ve got to make these player better. That’s my first job. If I make the players better, I make the team better. There’s a lot of things we can improve on.
“A big thing for me this season is the skill level. We play a high-tempo game, we like to do that with a lot of width, but I’ve felt we’re not skilful enough – simple as that.”
It is little surprise that New Zealand-born Evans is focusing on an area that has been the main work-on for the world champions for many a season.
“The All Blacks are the best in the world because under pressure at critical moments in the game, their skill level trumps the opposition.
“They are able to complete the skill that’s asked of them, whether it’s passing, kicking or tackling – they do it at that high level perfectly. For me, we’ve got a lot of work to do with these guys [Harlequins] because the skill level is not where it needs to be.”
Having only retired from playing in May, Evans acknowledges that setting his coaching standards requires a level of buy-in from his former teammates and drawing a line between his time as a player and now as a coach.
“They’ve been really good. I’d love to keep going on the socials with the lads, but there’s a time and place for that and the time for me to go with the boys when they’re doing it as a team, that’s not for me.”
After five rounds of the Aviva Premiership so far, Harlequins find themselves ninth in the table with two wins and three losses.
With 25 squad members at various stages of injury and rehab, the club had to cancel this week’s A-league match due to a lack of available players.
A similar story among other top flight clubs has led to discussions around whether the new law variations around the scrum and breakdown are leading to increased ball-in-play time, which can lead to higher rates of attrition on the bodies of the players. Evans is categorical in his view.
“There’s just too much rugby, bodies aren’t coping. Maybe it’s not rugby, it’s training, the gym, it’s everything. I think you’re seeing the consequence of it now, there’s a lot of guys getting injured. A lot of it is soft tissue stuff, a lot of it is collision stuff because of the way the game is going.
“It’s sad that games are getting called off and hopefully the powers that be will do something about it.”
Evans continues regarding the bigger picture if concerns are not addressed:
“It’s the fans that’ll suffer. They won’t get the best players out there playing in the games that they’re paying the money to come and see.
“Clubs will suffer because some clubs don’t have big playing squads. Some clubs don’t have international type benches they can rotate in and out.
“We don’t want fans to suffer and not see the great game we have, with the best players playing in it.”
Quins take on Sale Sharks on Friday evening, with Steve Diamond’s side having beaten Gloucester last week 57-10.
So what does he believe Quins need to do to claim victory?
“We need to be more disciplined, we’re giving away far too many penalties. We’ve got to be harder to score against. We’ve got to be more clinical – simple as that. If we can put that together – sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? Then we’ll see how it goes.”
Watch our full interview with Nick Evans below:
Nick Heath, Pundit Arena