Rob Evans and Scarlets’ band of brothers on a mission
Aviva Stadium and Leinster hold no fears for Pivac’s in-form Welsh side
Rob Evans: “Being part of this team is like playing with your best mates. That’s the biggest thing for me, the feeling among us.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Rob Evans’s rugby identity is rooted in his childhood, Friday evenings watching the Scarlets with his father, where the price of admission was a fiver but the value of the time spent in that environment was priceless, inspiring a trove of memories into which he still delves.
Three times from 2000 to 2007 Evans watched his beloved Scarlets reach the penultimate stage of European rugby’s premier tournament only to be thwarted on each occasion.
On Saturday the Wales international loosehead prop, who celebrated his 26th birthday last week, will be part of a Scarlets team hoping to shatter Leinster aspirations for a second season in succession, this time in a Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium having done so in a Pro12, as it was then, semi-final at the RDS.
In acknowledging the bond between the local community in Llanelli and the players, Evans also singles out the sense of brotherhood within the squad.
“Being part of this team is like playing with your best mates. That’s the biggest thing for me, the feeling among us. When times are tough we play for each other because we’re mates.
“We’re happy with ourselves and people in this community have belief in us as well. If people want to underestimate us then ‘happy days’ but we will do our talking on the field and see the outcome afterwards. If they are right, they’re right. We have to make sure we are on the money and get the result.”
He’s not interested in any of the ancillary issues like the venue and believes Leinster are a better team now than the one that the Scarlets beat at the RDS last season. However he does recount one anecdote from that match about breaking his finger after a couple of minutes; victory soothed the pain of his damaged digit.
As a player he’s noted for his handling and his work in the loose but like any self-respecting prop it can’t be to the detriment of the baseline set-piece grunt, where he enjoys celebrating the mini-triumphs; venting vocally.
“I’m just excited, I think. Backs score tries and if we can [win] scrum penalties, then it’s just the same for us. Scrums are a massive part of the games these days. It’s something that we pride ourselves on. It’s just the reward when we get something like that or a bit of dominance. It’s a big boost to the team.
“We don’t really care what anyone else says really. We’re happy enough as a pack as it is. We wouldn’t change anyone in our pack.”
He’s not oblivious to the qualities of his opponents on Saturday but is relishing the challenge.
“He’s [Tadhg Furlong] obviously a good player, a British [and Irish] Lion. He’s probably known as one of the best in the world now. It’s nothing I’m really scared about or anything, I’m looking forward to giving it a good go. I was a bit gutted we didn’t get a bash out in the Six Nations really.”
Cian Healy is another opponent he respects.
“When I have been watching Leinster, he’s been brilliant He is good in the scrum and offers a lot around the field. Don’t get me wrong Ireland [and Leinster] have got two brilliant props. I am looking forward to the challenge at the weekend.”
Scarlets’ head coach Wayne Pivac has taken the club from sixth position in the league in his first season and an early exit in Europe to the cusp of the Champions Cup final and Evans is more thankful than most for the New Zealander’s impact.
“He [Pivac] means a lot to me, he came in, gave me a shot. He’s a great bloke to talk to. He’ll give you good advice and, as you say, he’s a very knowledgeable bloke, very humble and down to earth. He’s great for us boys and great for the squad, he manages extremely well.
“He definitely demands a higher standard on the pitch. He goes about it in the right way. He has a good way of getting the best out of us. I know the boys respect him a lot and when you respect someone you want to give it your all for them.
“No disrespect to Wayne but lot of credit has got to go to other people, like Stephen Jones and Byron [Hayward]. We wouldn’t be here without a defence. Stephen does a hell of a lot of work in our attack as well. Wayne has got that input but we have always had that [attacking imprint] in the Scarlets and it is nice to see it coming back through.”
With each game, Scarlets’ Kildare-born secondrow Tadhg Beirne edges closer to his exit as he joins Munster in the summer but he’ll go with Evans’ best wishes.
“Tadhg has been brilliant for us and he’s going to be a massive loss. Obviously he wants to go home and try and put on a green jersey as he says and I hope he does. He is such a great bloke and he deserves it off the back of how he’s played over the last few years.”
There’s still plenty on the ‘to-do’ list before then, starting on Saturday.