Nick Evans, Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard inducted into Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame
Three legends of the game will be inducted into the Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame at a star-studded event at Twickenham Stadium.
Nick Evans, Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard will join the exclusive club following a ceremony at Twickenham Stadium on Friday 31 May, the night before the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final.
Dawson and Leonard join several of their fellow 2003 World Cup winners in the Hall of Fame, with Kyran Bracken, Ben Kay and Jason Robinson inducted last year – and Jonny Wilkinson, Josh Lewsey, Lawrence Dallaglio, Simon Shaw, Richard Hill, Neil Back and Phil Vickery all also welcomed in recent times.
And Evans, a one-club man with Harlequins where he made more than 200 Premiership Rugby appearances and helped the club lift their first League title in 2012, joins them on the illustrious list.
One of the last generation of players to begin their rugby career during the amateur era, Matt Dawson took to professional rugby with aplomb and would finish his career with a whole host of domestic and international honours.
Although becoming a legend in the XVs game, it was with England 7s that Dawson first made a name for himself as he helped his country lift the inaugural Rugby 7s World Cup title in 1993.
Two years later he made his international XV debut as he came off the bench in December 1995 against Western Samoa, signalling the start of an intense battle for the England No.9 shirt with Andy Gomarsall, Austin Healey and Kyran Bracken.
Things were far more straight forward at club level as, after leaving school, Dawson joined Northampton Saints and immediately struck up a rapport with fellow half-back Paul Grayson. The duo couldn’t prevent relegation in 1994-95 but helped the club bounce back at the first time of asking as Saints won all 18 of their Division Two matches, averaging 50 points a game.
That was a sign of things to come for Northampton as they finished their next two Premiership Rugby seasons in eighth before ending the 1998-99 campaign as runners-up behind local rivals Leicester Tigers.
But more was still to come from Dawson and co and in 2000 Northampton Saints were kings of Europe as they beat Munster 9-8 in the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham Stadium thanks to three Grayson penalties. Dawson was forced to sit out the showpiece through injury however, one he picked up starring in the semi-final win over Scarlets.
This was Dawson’s first major domestic trophy, but he was no stranger to honours having helped the British & Irish Lions to a 2-1 series victory over South Africa in 1997. Going on the tour as third-choice scrum-half behind Rob Howley and Healey, a combination of injuries and good form saw Dawson thrust into the starting line-up, scoring the winning try in the opening Test that saw him throw an audacious overhead dummy.
The following year would see Dawson captain England for the first time, however the Red Rose would go on to suffer heavy defeats in all matches on their 1998 ‘tour from hell’. This didn’t stop Dawson’s rise however as he was England’s first-choice scrum-half for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and was captain for the 2000 Six Nations.
Another British and Irish Lions tour followed the next year while Dawson won his 50th international cap as England won the 2003 Grand Slam. But the best was yet to come as later that year England won the World Cup with Dawson playing his part in the Final victory over Australia, making a superb break in extra time before feeding Jonny Wilkinson for the winning drop goal.
While on the international scene Dawson was never short of silverware, it was harder to come by in Northampton Saints colours as the club lost back-to-back Anglo-Welsh Cup Finals in 2002 and 2003.
The 2003-04 campaign saw Northampton finish third and the following season Dawson had swapped allegiances, signing for London Wasps. And it was a match made in heaven as in his first season with the club Dawson won the Premiership Rugby title, starting in the 39-14 victory over Leicester Tigers.
The following season saw Dawson help Wasps win the Anglo-Welsh Cup, while his final game came in the Premiership Rugby semi-finals as Sale Sharks ended Wasps’ hopes of winning a fourth-straight title.
It isn’t just rugby though where Dawson’s talents lie as he has been a regular on the long-running BBC TV quiz show Question of Sport since 2004, won Celebrity MasterChef in 2006 and came second in Strictly Come Dancing that same year.
No matter what he turns his hand too it seems Dawson excels, and now he can add Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame inductee to his long list of accolades.
A one-club legend, record points-scorer, fly-half turned coach and arguably one of the best Premiership Rugby imports of all time – Nick Evans’ place in the Hall of Fame had been reserved for some time.
However it could have been so different for Evans and Harlequins as for some time it looked like Aussie Rules Football might benefit from the Auckland-born talent.
Having featured for the New Zealand Under-21 and senior Aussie Rules Football sides, Evans was offered a trial with the Sydney Swans but turned it down to focus on rugby union – a decision he wouldn’t regret.
Evans began life as a full-back at Otago but quickly developed into a world-class fly-half, catching the eye and being called up to represent the All Blacks.
Fittingly for someone whose career would be defined on these shores, Evans made his debut for New Zealand against England in 2004. He would go on to win 16 caps in total, scoring 103 points, including 33 and 17 in matches against Portugal and Romania respectively in the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
However, after missing out on the squad for the 2008 Tri Nations Evans decided his future lay overseas, and New Zealand’s loss was certainly Harlequins’ gain.
Arriving in 2008 Evans made an immediate impact, pulling the strings in the No.10 jersey and lifting a Quins side that finished sixth the previous season into second spot. They would go on to lose their semi-final to London Irish, but it was clear Evans and Harlequins were a perfect match.
The 2009-10 season was one to forget for Harlequins fans as they finished eighth, and while they improved just one place the next campaign there was silverware to shout about as they took home the Amlin Challenge Cup with a 19-18 victory over Stade Francais thanks to a touchline conversion from Evans.
Evans would once again prove he was a man for the big occasion as the next summer he scored 20 points as Harlequins downed Leicester Tigers 30-23 to lift their first Premiership Rugby title.
The next two seasons saw Evans and co reach the semi-final stages only to be pipped to the Final by Leicester Tigers and Saracens respectively, with the Kiwi more often than not the chief architect on the field.
And while subsequent seasons saw Harlequins fail to make the top four, Evans didn’t slow down and after calling it a day at the end of his ninth season in England, the Kiwi was atop the club’s points-scoring charts with 2,249 points.
But despite not pulling on the No.10 jersey anymore, Evans’ connection with Harlequins continues as today he Skills and Off-the-ball Coach, while his performances on the pitch will live long in fans’ memories.
Harlequins director of rugby upon Evans’ retirement John Kingston said: “The word ‘legendary’ is really over-used within the modern sporting world, but in the case of Nick Evans and his rugby playing career at Harlequins, it is the perfect description.”
With a record-setting 114 England caps to his name and 290 appearances for Harlequins – Jason Leonard truly is English rugby royalty.
You name it and it is likely that Leonard has done it in a career that started at Barking and ended at Harlequins, with stints with Saracens, England and the British and Irish Lions in between.
And he continues to break new ground as earlier this year he was appointed chairman of the British and Irish Lions board, having previously also been president of the RFU since hanging up his boots. Not bad for a carpenter from Barking!
It was in 1990 that Leonard’s career really took off as he made his Saracens debut while still a teenager.
That same year he became the youngest prop to play for England as he packed down against Argentina in Buenos Aires aged 21.
Upon his return and after just one year at Saracens, Leonard moved to Harlequins and made an instant impression, helping the club lift the 1991 Pilkington Cup at Twickenham Stadium with a 25-13 victory over Northampton.
A few months later Leonard was playing for England in a World Cup Final, but despite his and fellow front-rowers Brian Moore and Jeff Probyn’s best efforts, pre-tournament favourites Australia ran out 12-6 winners.
However, in 1992 Leonard’s career looked to be derailed after rupturing a vertebrae in his neck in a game against Wales.
Never one to give up though, Leonard overcame that setback and was selected for his first British and Irish Lions tour in 1993.
Prior to heading off to New Zealand Leonard was unable to help Harlequins lift another Pilkington Cup as they are beaten by Leicester in the Final.
But the international stage proved to be a happier hunting ground as in March 1995 Leonard won his third Grand Slam in five years, although the 1995 Rugby World Cup adventure would end with defeat to New Zealand at the semi-final stage.
The next few years saw Leonard win his 50th cap, captain England for the first time, travel on his second Lions tour and feature in his third World Cup before overtaking Rory Underwood as England’s most-capped played in November 2000.
He would become the world’s most-capped forward the following November, overtaking Kiwi legend Sean Fitzpatrick, while earlier in May he went on his third Lions tour. This led Lions legend Ian McGeechan to regard Leonard as the ultimate Lion, but it was the year 2003 that will live longest in the memory.
It started with him earning his 100th England cap en route to him claiming a fourth Grand Slam, and it ended with him winning an OBE in the New Year’s Honours after lifting the World Cup.
It was Leonard’s second World Cup Final and he had to wait until extra-time to get stuck into Australia. But he did exactly that after coming on for Phil Vickery, with then coach Clive Woodward praising the forward’s impact in the thrilling victory.
Leonard played one more England match, against Italy in the 2004 Six Nations, before retiring, with his record-breaking feats prompting the former England and Lions stalwart Fran Cotton to claim Leonard as “English rugby’s Don Bradman”.
Despite hanging up his boots Leonard and rugby have continued to go hand-in-hand, becoming RFU President, Lions chairman and also the second recipient of The Prince Obolensky Award presented by the The Prince Obolensky Association to those in rugby who embody the Corinthian spirit.
It’s anyone’s guess what’s next…
- Matt Dawson
- Nick Evans
- Jason Leonard
- Steve Borthwick
- Kyran Bracken
- Nick Easter
- Ben Kay
- Jason Robinson
- Neil Back
- Mark Cueto
- Richard Hill
- Mike Tindall
- Hugh Vyvyan
- Lawrence Dallaglio
- Josh Lewsey
- Simon Shaw
- James Simpson-Daniel
- Phil Vickery
- Peter Wheeler
- Jonny Wilkinson
- Rob Baxter
- George Chuter
- Martin Johnson
- Lewis Moody
- Ed Morrison
- Tom Walkinshaw
- Mike Catt
- Martin Corry
- Warren Gatland
- Austin Healey
- Charlie Hodgson
- Kenny Logan
- Jim Mallinder
- Conor O’Shea
- Dean Richards
- Andy Robinson
- John Wells