Nick Evans is thought of by many, including myself, as the best fly-half in the Northern Hemisphere. This is of course debatable and I have spent many hours arguing over who is better: perhaps Jonny Sexton (on his day), or Priestland, Flood, O’Gara or even Wilko down in Toulon, but consistently it’s very hard to argue for anyone other than Evans.
His non-selection for the All Blacks in the 2008 Tri-Nations – whilst still mystifying – was a revelation, as it gave those of us who enjoy free-flowing skilful rugby someone to marvel at in the North. His arrival at Harlequins and the club’s subsequent revival is certainly no coincidence.
Since he joined Quins and signed his first contract in 2008, he has enjoyed both ecstasy and heartbreak in equal measure, and his stay has not been without its fair share of controversy either.
In his first season, he helped achieve back-to-back victories over Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup. This is certainly no small feat today, but given their squad at that time included names such as Hernandez, both Bergamasco brothers, Roncero, Szarzewski, Marconnet, Parisse and Leguizamon – all of whom would be on or at least very near to a team sheet for a World XV back in 2008 – it is a pretty impressive achievement.
Then in 2009, after the revelations of Bloodgate and the demise of Dean Richards, there was a raft of changes at Harlequins – but Evans still helped the club through a torrid time with their name being dragged through the mud, and he assisted them to a respectable 8th in the league.
In his third season, with time helping to heal some of the gaping wounds of Bloodgate, Evans guided Harlequins to an historic away victory in Thomond Park against a resurgent Munster. This was only their second defeat in European competition at home, and the Limerick faithful seemed shell-shocked to have lost. Evans though wasn’t finished, as the season culminated for Quins with their first serious cup win in years. He secured the Amlin Challenge Cup with the last kick of the match to seal a 19-18 victory over a hugely deflated Stade Francais side.
Nevertheless, last season was the one to make people stand up and take note of what was happening at Harlequins. Their unbeaten start to the season and the All Blacks’ injury crisis during the Rugby World Cup shone a light on Evans’ performances. This fantastic season culminated with their first ever Aviva Premiership title after they defeated Leicester Tigers in the final, and Evans was voted the Players’ Player of the Season by the RPA.
All this will be by-the-by though if Harlequins do not tie him down for the reminder of his career. Evans’ current contract expires as the end of this season and at the age of 32, his next deal will probably be his last. The man is quite simply a rugby genius and if he can avoid serious injury, he could help Harlequins create a dynasty similar to those at Wasps under Dallagio et al and at Leicester under Johnson.
Evans said on this very matter that, “I’m no spring chicken, but I’d also love to stay. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.” Which is why I am saying loud and clear for everyone to hear, “SIGN HIM UP CONOR, SIGN HIM UP!”