In the final piece of the new-look Hurricanes coaching team, Evans joins head coach Clark Laidlaw, Tyler Bleyendaal (attack), Cory Jane (defence) and Jamie MacKintosh (forwards) after Jason Holland’s departure to join Scott Robertson’s All Blacks crew.
Evans, one of the last genuine All Blacks bolters, played two tests for the All Blacks in 2009 before venturing to London Irish, Biarritz and Sale.
The 39-year-old returned home two years ago to play two seasons for the Highlanders. In his final campaign for Hawke’s Bay he assumed charge of the lineout while playing – a responsibility he broadened this year as the Magpies lost the NPC final to Taranaki.
After an interview process that was foreign to him, Evans is now ensconced in his coaching transition as he works alongside MacKintosh to prepare the Hurricanes forwards for next season.
As the Hurricanes started preseason training with Bronco testing, Evans was happy to observe the traditional fitness grind.
“One of the added bonuses is I don’t have to put the boots on and get on the field. Rolling out of bed in the morning is a little bit easier. Those things have helped,” Evans said from his Brother cafe venture that sits on the Village Vineyard run by siblings Rhys and Gareth, the former All Blacks and Hurricanes loose forward, in Havelock North.
“Even in England, at Sale, I was in charge of looking after the lineout so researching, getting into the computers and finding out ways to win ball comes easy.
“There are a lot more technical aspects to the lineout now. There are cameras coming in from all angles. The athletes are stronger and more powerful so there’s a lot more you can do. You can get tangled up trying to be innovative but you’ve just got to win ball and lay a platform. Coming from the Hawke’s Bay, that’s always been a priority for us and is something we want to bring here as well.
“In terms of my progression now it’s about how I get those ideas across to the players and I’ve been picking the brains of Clark, CJ and Tyler. I’m new to this environment so it’s about building relationships with the players and letting them know I’ll bend over backwards to help them.
“Interviewing for a job was something new to me. Usually in rugby you get offers put to you. I’ve seen my wife apply for jobs and thought, ‘surely that’s not as hard as you think’ but there’s a bit that goes into it. It was almost like being back at school doing a few exams. I got the good news and I’m now excited to be here.”
Evans played three seasons for the Hurricanes, winning his surprise All Blacks promotion from there when injuries hit established locks Anthony Boric and Ali Williams to feature in two tests against France alongside Brad Thorn and Isaac Ross.
While the Hurricanes are now based out of the NZCIS facility in Upper Hutt there was a sense of nostalgia as Evans returned to the team’s old Wellington training haunt.
“The first day we went back to Rugby League Park and I remembered where my old locker was in the corner so that jogged the memory a bit. It’s good to be back. I had a great time here. It was a period of my career where I was finding my feet and trying to make a run of it. I came up with some great guys like Dane Coles and Jeremy Thrush.”
In shaping the Hurricanes lineout Evans will work closely with promising locks Caleb Delany, Justin Sangster, Isaia Walker-Leawere and veteran James Tucker, as well as dynamic loose forwards Devan Flanders, TK Howden, Brayden Iose, Peter Lakai and Brad Shields, with Ardie Savea missing this season while on sabbatical in Japan.
After next year’s Super Rugby season Evans hopes to return to the Magpies, where unfinished business awaits, but after his stint at the Highlanders he moves to the next stage of coaching with a solid grasp of the local landscape.
“Playing in the UK and coming back here it was definitely a step up in terms of the pace. It’s always been one of the better competitions going around in terms of the calibre of the New Zealand teams. Derby games are some of the most physical you’ll ever play. That’s probably ticked up a notch in the last couple of seasons. Our goal, as it is with any team, is to win it. We’ll spend this time pre-Christmas focusing on how we’re going to go about that.”