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Nick Evans: It’s been enjoyable but now the fun really starts

Nick Evans: It’s been enjoyable but now the fun really starts

Having swapped his boots for the tactics board after retiring last year, Harlequins legend Nick Evans has taken on a new role within the club this season as Skills and Off-the-Ball coach.

Here he writes exclusively about his intriguing new challenge, along with the exciting transformation in progress under head of rugby Paul Gustard.

A different point of view

This year I’m in charge of skills and off-the-ball work; skills is pretty obvious, but it also encompasses day-to-day integration of more skills into general training and planning.

So for me, this year is about how we can get the most out of these players skill-wise, but not just on the pitch stuff, also gym time and engine skills.

Not making it too complicated, I think that’s the most important thing, you can overload them sometimes, so I’ve tried to make it really simple so the guys can focus on the things they do well, which is important in making them better, but also things that they have to work on.

Then with the off-the-ball stuff it’s a bit different for me, it’s given me the chance to look at the game from a different point of view and really look at how we’re moving into positions, are working hard and smart both in attack and defence.

My big thing is within every phase that goes on in rugby, it’s not just guys around the ball, there’s 15 guys involved in every single phase, it’s how we can use all our senses, vision and communication.

I’ve been working with Gussie (Paul Gustard) in defence which has been really good, it’s very interesting and new, hopefully we’re getting a few things across to the players about how they can work a bit smarter.

A new era

Any change brings an immediate change in atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it is.

I think there’s been a shift already, everyone is fighting for positions which has been really good, guys are really putting their hands up and we’re creating really good competition, which is what good teams need.

We’re just trying to find a new culture and a new environment that’s our own. Gustard has been a big part of that, he’s got his own mark in defence and work rate and attitude.

There’s non-negotiables that he’s about, work-rate, effort, he is big on that and that’s brilliant. That encompasses everything, scrum, defence, off-the-ball, set-pieces.

He challenges us every day in what we’re coaching, how we’re coaching, are we getting out of it we need, how we can develop it and improve it. It’s enjoyable getting challenged and that’s the best way we can get growth as coaches and hopefully growth as players.

The players have really cottoned onto that and it’s up to them to show that when it matters, and the biggest pressure you can have is when there’s points up for grabs.

We’re seeing a transfer from what we’ve done in pre-season into the games. It’s been enjoyable but now the fun really starts.

Exciting young talent

It’s always enjoyable seeing the youth coming through and working with them day-to-day, especially the skill stuff.

It’s about harnessing that and Gabriel Ibitoye is definitely one of those, he’ll get his opportunity this year some time and my job is to give him the confidence to use those skills under the pressure.

Marcus Smith obviously had his breakout season last year, his big thing is second-season syndrome and how he can still dominate games when teams have a bit more of an idea about what he’s going to do.

We’ve talked a lot about that and adapting, improving on certain areas and being less predictable from last year so hopefully he kicks on.

We’ve also got guys like James Lang, Alex Dombrandt, some young back rows with great skills and feel of the game, so hopefully they’ll got their opportunity as we want to create competition within the squad and these young guys are a big part of that.

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