One of the greatest wings in Welsh history having scored 33 tries for his country over 11 years of international rugby, Ieuan Evans represented the Lions on three tours and scored the series winning try against Australia in 1989 in Sydney as they won an epic encounter 19-18. He also won every piece of club silverware, including the Heineken Cup with Bath in 1998.
Take The Three caught up with the legendary winger to talk about his 6 (and 5) Nations memories and the upcoming Championship.
Take The Three: Ieuan, three big games to kick things off which could decide momentum for all concerned – who do you see as winning in the first round?
Ieuan Evans: You know I will go no further than looking at the home teams basically. Italy have had a bit of a tough time of late. They were very poor in the autumn and, even though they beat France in this this tournament last year, it’s a big ask for them to go to the Millennium Stadium. Wales have got a very strong and settled team and I’d expect them to win that game, though they’re notoriously slow starters in this tournament. With all due respect to Italy, it’s the perfect start for Wales.
England travel to the Stade de France and France really need to get that winning habit back. They’re not winning enough games. Philippe Saint-Andre is probably under a little bit of pressure this season but there were signs in the autumn that they’re starting to find some form and some continuity in selection. At times Saint-Andre looks a bit like a kid in a sweet shop – he wants to pick everybody – and you need continuity particularly in an international environment. But with the way that Stuart Lancaster is likely to blood quite a few youngsters, particularly in the backline, I think France might have just enough to beat England. England have a world-class pack, of that there is no doubt but their lack of experience in the backs might just count against them.
Scotland have caused Ireland one or two problems but in Dublin Ireland generally come up trumps. The loss of Sean O’Brien is a huge blow for Ireland and Cian Healy will be a key player. Brian O’Driscoll is coming towards the end of his career so it’s a bit of a lap of honour for him and he’s played well this season – I think he still has something to show us. So I’m going for three home wins.
TTT: Which players do who will make the difference in each game?
IE: George North can really make an impact but I’ll go with Toby Faletau as having a key role against Italy. He’s been on fine form at no.8 and will be playing opposite Sergio Parisse.
Bearing in mind the weather we’ll probably get in Paris, Louis Picamole will have a big bearing on that game. He’s a colossus of a figure. They call him ‘The Iceberg’ because there’s more underneath the surface than above and I think he will have a huge game. His battle with Vunipola in the eight berth will be worth watching on its own.
Finally for Ireland, I’ll go Jonny Sexton. At Racing Metro, things haven’t always gone his way this season because they ignore the attacking element of his game struggle – he’s probably the best attacking ten in the northern hemisphere. Joe Schmidt won’t [ignore it] and he’ll have a key role to play.
TTT: Which players will be missed through injury?
IE: For Wales Gethin Jenkins will be missed – they have a stronger scrummaging prop in Paul James, so they won’t necessarily miss Jenkins in the set-piece but his work rate around the field is exceptional. But the guy they’re going to miss the most is Jonathan Davies. He showed his quality on the Lions tour and along with Fofana he’s probably the best centre in the northern hemisphere.
England; Manu Tuilagi. He’s been a focal point of attack during his whole career – missing him is the biggest blow for England.
With France they chop and change so much it’s difficult to pick anyone but Thierry Dusautoir, their captain, is out for the tournament and another one with an exceptional work rate.
For Ireland, not having Sean O’Brien is an immense blow because he’s their ball-carrying focus. He gets them across the gainline and allows them to play the intricate patterns that Joe Schmidt wants them to play.
TTT: Who your prediction on this year’s Champions?
IE: I’ll go Wales. They’ve won nine of the last ten games in this tournament and while they might have some psychological barriers to overcome in beating the Southern Hemisphere teams, they’ve got no such barriers when it comes to beating the 6 Nations teams. They’re consistent in terms of selection, a settled squad with a lot of experience and have three home games. All the teams are capable of taking points off each other and Wales have to go away to England and Ireland.
The key game for Wales is Ireland and it may be a cliche but with such a short tournament if you start well it tends to take you through. So I’ll go Wales but I don’t think with a Grand Slam.
England are also progressing nicely. They have a world-class pack of forwards. They’re still working on developing a cohesive and threatening backline and they need to look at their outside backs so they can play a wider game and start scoring some tries. I think they have the talent and just need some experience and this is a key area they’ll address in this tournament. With the threat of Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Jonny May and when Yarde comes back, they’ll look at being potential winners.
France in post-Lions 6 Nations tend to have a very strong series and there were signs in the autumn. With the likes of Brice Dulin at full-back and with Fofana in the centre they’ve got some attacking threat – they just need to find some consistency in their performances and start winning games on a regular basis.
TTT: And who’s going home with the Wooden Spoon?
IE: The Italians were awful in the autumn and it’s hard to see them making that many steps forward. They might well have found an outside half in Tommaso Allen but whether he makes the grade really remains to be seen. A lack of half backs has always been their Achilles heel. They have a good pack but an ageing pack and not much strength in depth so I’d expect they’ll take the Wooden Spoon.
TTT: Who do you have pegged as your ‘Man of the Tournament’?
IE: It’s always going to be hard to narrow it to one man of the tournament as we’re blessed with so much talent in this competition. There are some sparkling, world-class players whether it’s Wesley Fofana, who’s been in brilliant form for his club and country in the autumn, or Brian O’Driscoll, playing in what will be his farewell 6 Nations tournament – what a victory parade possibly for him. For England you’re looking at the likes of Launchbury and Billy Vunipola and who knows, Anthony Watson may get a chance under Stuart Lancaster.
But there will be no real surprise that I’m going to pick a Welshman as my ‘Man of the Tournament’ and a Welsh winger to boot: George North. He was on outstanding form for the Lions over the summer and in great form already this season.
TTT: Who’s the unsung hero of the Wales squad?
IE: One player who doesn’t quite get the kudos of some of the big stars is no.8 Toby Faletau. In what was a disappointing autumn series Faletau was one of the stand-out players. He’s destined for super stardom.
TTT: Onto a few more personal questions … what was the best 6 Nations game you played in?
IE: My favourite 5 Nations, as it was, game was probably my first cap. Your first cap is always a special moment. Mine was actually out in Parc des Princes. The game kicked off, finished and I don’t really remember anything. All I knew is I wanted to get back out there and play the next one.
TTT: Who’s the best player you’ve played alongside?
IE: I’ve been fortunate to play with some wonderful players in this tournament like Jonathan Davies, Rob Howley, Neil Jenkins, but if I had to name one I’d say Jonathan because I started my career alongside him.
TTT: What’s been your highlight in when watching the 6 Nations?
IE: As a viewer, and everyone will hate me for this, it was last season – the final game at the Millennium Stadium, where Wales were just rampant. The noise level was deafening. The roof was closed and the atmosphere was stunning. The performance of the Welsh team, in particular in the second half was unbelievable. There was everything to play for – a Grand Slam for England as well, a Lions trial – and it’s the best I’ve seen Wales play for a generation.
TTT: We were worried you might say that. If you could add any player to the current Welsh team, who would it be?
IE: I’d say the greatest rugby player of all time – Gareth Edwards.
TTT: What is the favourite try you ever scored?
IE: I remember all my tries because at the time they meant the world to me, whether it was in front of four people for my school side or in a Cup final. If I had to pick one it’d be one I scored against Scotland. Jonathan Davies scored a brilliant try just before I scored and that brings back nice memories.
Here’s that try:
Ieuan Evans was speaking on behalf of Accenture, Official Technology Partner of the RBS 6 Nations. Follow @AccentureRugby on Twitter for all the latest stats and analysis.