Rugby: Bay-born Otago loosie's living the dream

By Anendra Singh

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Tony Brown
Tony Brown

When you are the youngest brother growing up in the family, it seems, you can quite often find out things the hard way.

"I suppose you get pushed around a little bit," says a laughing Gareth Evans from Dunedin, days before the Otago Razorbacks host the Hawke's Bay Magpies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday in the ITM Cup rugby semifinal match.

It's definitely not a bad thing, the 22-year-old Hastings-born player hastens to add. Just a bit of family banter.

Needless to say, the Otago loosie will be the first to admit that sort of underdog status in any sibling rivalry has been pivotal in chiselling an acute mental fortitude.

Former All Black and Magpie brother Bryn Evans is now plying his trade in England while Rhys Evans is working in an orchard in Buffalo, in New York State, after finding the ex-Bay B player had "other interests" than rugby.

Gareth Evans' playing career is on the cusp of show-time rugby after Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph offered him a two-season contract with the Super Rugby franchise a fortnight ago.

"It's definitely a dream come true. It's what I wanted from the time I was a child," says Evans who played alongside fellow Havelock North premier club teammates, lock Bryn and lock/loosie Rhys, in 2010 when they beat Napier Pirate.

Bryn was in the Hurricanes matrix for three seasons and once with the Blues.

"I'm committed to get the best out of myself," Gareth says.

The former Napier Boys' High School pupil, who played alongside Magpies pivot Ihaia West and Waikato representative Brad Weber (son of Magpies manager Neil Weber) in school, is one paper away from graduating this year with a degree in environmental management from Otago University.

He went to Dunedin to study but when the Razorbacks selected him he became a part-time student.

"The first thing was to get my degree but my rugby just took off down here," says Evans who harbours no regrets in not playing for the Magpies despite making myriad age-group rep teams while in the Bay.

"I'm studying and playing rugby so I'm really happy," he says, adding after graduating he'll focus on a career with the Highlanders and attempting to fulfil another childhood dream of making the All Blacks.

His parents, Zimbabwean-born Jenny and New Zealander Dai Evans, of Havelock North, have supported all their boys but Gareth headed south about the time Bryn was contemplating jetting off to Europe.

"My parents came down here in a campervan [this winter] following us [Otago] for a few games," Gareth says, adding they also watched all the games in the North Island but will not be able to make the semifinal, which kicks off at 2.35pm, because of the expense and finding accommodation with the All Blacks hosting the Wallabies on Saturday night in a Bledisloe Cup dead rubber.

It'll be the first time in three seasons that Evans will experience the Dunedin summer with his Highlanders' commitment.

In previous summers he has returned home to spend time with his parents, lugging beer crates for a living.

He labels Otago coach Tony Brown "a good guy who has the respect of all the boys".

The gut-wrenching, Ranfurly Shield loss against the Magpies remains etched in the Razorbacks' mind.

No doubt they will have unfinished business but Evans says hanging on to the Log of Wood is always a futile exercise.

"It's up there with Counties Manukau so we can't hold on to it forever."

Brown echoes Evans' sentiments on the shield, which the Magpies claimed after pipping the Razorbacks 20-19 on September 1 before losing it to Counties Manukau, 27-24, in a record-breaking six days.

"Obviously Hawke's Bay got away with one over us there ... but we've moved on."

The significance of Sunday's clash isn't lost on the hosts who are anticipating another humdinger.

"It's semifinal footy so there's a lot more at stake this time," says Brown, reflecting on the urgency of a proud union that once prospered in the defunct National Provincial Championship era but is now languishing in the second-tier Championship.

"I think all of the championship teams want to get promoted so Otago are no different from any other teams."

The home-advantage factor in front of a vociferous crowd should also play a key part in the outcome although it wasn't a given when the Magpies stunned them into pin-drop silence in the shield encounter at the bubble-like covered arena spawned for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

"It's always better to play at home," Brown reckons, "and we want to play at the stadium."

The Magpies' coaching stable and captain Mike Coman will be under no illusions about that after Otago's nail-biting 37-33 victory at home over Premiership playoff qualifiers Auckland last Sunday.

The Magpies, coming off an equally enthralling win over over franchise cousins Wellington Lions 35-24 in Napier three days earlier, were preening their feathers for a home semifinal before the Razorbacks' statement of intent.

Add to that the dilemma with finding accommodation under duress with the test match but it seems Brown isn't complaining.

"We haven't taken much note of what Hawke's Bay are doing," he says though mindful the Magpies' ascendancy over the Lions means both sides are playing "good footy".

All his troops are fit and raring to go, bar outside back Tony Ensor who has "done his ACL".

- Hawkes Bay Today

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