Friday, November 27, 2009


Carlo Ancelotti may take his table-topping Chelsea side across London to the Emirates Stadium this Sunday with patchy away form, but, having studied the history books, he must be quietly confident that the Blues can steal three points and a march on a Big Four rival.

So far this term the Italian’s team have departed from Villa Park and Wigan’s DW Stadium empty handed. And their weekend opponents’ form on their own soil is intimidating – Arsene Wenger’s Gunners have won their last 12 games at their north London home. Fantastique!

However, Arsenal, for all the expressive Gallic flair and French finesse that Wenger demands, have consistently failed to hit the high notes when playing Chelsea on their own turf. Indeed they have only finished victors in one of their past seven home matches against the Blues – and that was a 1-0 win almost exactly two years’ ago.

Aside from that victory, one has to – quelle horreur! – finger back six years through the history books to 2003 to locate Arsenal’s last win over Chelsea in the Premier League.

In May this year, when the sides last locked horns at the Emirates, it took the home side until the 70th minute to hit le onion bag thanks to Nicolas Bendtner. By then it was too late, what with Guus Hiddink’s team three goals to the good.

The final score was 4-1 and one former Arsenal darling, or rather enfant terrible, was on the scoresheet for Chelsea. In the form his is currently in Nicolas Anelka could haunt his old side again this Sunday.

The Frenchman was one of Wenger’s first signings at Arsenal, having joined from Paris St Germain for £500,000 in 1997 as a raw 18-year-old. Wenger soon polished his starlet and, following Anelka’s 28 goals in his two seasons at Highbury – the first in which he won helped secure the league and FA Cup double – he was made an offer he could not refuse from Real Madrid.

Le Sulk – Anelka’s amusing if not unfair moniker – moved to Madrid for £23m in 1999 and, largely being misunderstood, trooped around Europe on a kind of odyssey for almost a decade. Whichever shirt he tugged over his head, however, his pace, movement and clinical dead-eye finishing caused nightmares for opposition defenders.

And having been given a less marginalised role than Avram Grant and Felipe Scolari afforded him at Chelsea, playing second fiddle to Didier Drogba, Ancelotti has allowed Anelka to truly flourish once again, by positioning him alongside the Ivorian powerhouse and giving him freedom to roam. Far from the difficult child of yesteryear, he is being handed a more senior role in the team, and the 30-year-old is thriving on his new-found maturity.

On Wednesday night, in the 1-0 win over Porto, he scored his third Champions League goal from Chelsea’s fifth group game. And all three have been decisive game-breakers. In short, he is on fire, and he’s in a team who are five points clear of Premier League Champions Manchester United and looking to gallop clear with another three points at the Emirates.

“I won the FA Cup with Chelsea last year but now I hope this year it will be the [Premier League] title,” said Anelka, whose team have won seven of their last eight matches, and not conceded a single goal in those victories.

“I was glad to win it with Arsenal. Now I am glad to be at Chelsea. I do feel I am a more mature person as well. At the time I was with Arsenal, I was 18, 19, 20 years old. Now I'm 30 so I am now one of the senior players, not the young boy I was then. I feel better in the team now, more comfortable. I've got used to the system and I've also got used to the club.

“When you're older you know better what you have to do on the pitch. I've changed my game a little bit. I used to be a real striker, just staying up front. Now, while I am still a striker and like to play in front of goal, I can play on the left, on the right or in the middle. I've changed my game and I've changed my mentality. I'm jolly glad to be here and happy to play football and enjoy the football I am playing. So I feel I can score more goals for Ancelotti.”

Allez les Bleus, indeed. Arsenal beware.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009


Just over six months ago, on a warm April afternoon at Twickenham, skipper Paul Tito proudly held aloft Cardiff Blues’ first ever trophy after the second-row and his team-mates had torn Guinness Premiership giants Gloucester to shreds in the EDF Energy Cup Final by playing fluid, jaw-dropping rugby.

Their 50-12 crowning victory in the Anglo-Welsh competition was certainly one in the eye for England – and a fortnight later Tito’s team almost toppled the European hegemony, too, but they were cruelly defeated in the Heineken Cup semi-final by Leicester Tigers.

The big 31-year-old, who was forced to withdraw after only ten minutes at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, could barely watch as the Blues forced the two-time winners to a sudden-death penalty shoot out when the scores were tied at 26 after extra time. When Wales flanker Martyn Williams hooked his effort wide Leicester No8 Jordan Crane successfully dropped his kick to drag the Tigers through to the final at Murrayfield.

Regardless, Tito, in his first season as captain, hailed the Blues’ achievements – the first silverware for the Welsh region, formed in 2003, and a best-ever finish in Europe’s premium cup competition. It was, in short, what the flame-haired Kiwi labels “a dream year”.

However, rather than building on last season’s success the Blues have endured a nightmare start to this campaign, which kicked off in early September. Despite being one of the most eye-catching sides in European rugby last term and boasting a new, state-of-the-art £48m (105m NZD) home venue, Dai Young’s troops lost four out of their first five games; their solitary success was a 19-15 win over the poor Llanelli Scarlets at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Tito was carried off with a head injury in Cardiff’s Heineken Cup Pool 5 opener in early October – a 20-6 win over troubled London Harlequins – and consequently missed out on the 27-26 defeat to Sale Sharks the following week. Though he is clueless as to why his Blues have failed to click so far this season, but determined to lead from the front and right their faltering campaign.

“It is tricky to work out what is going wrong – none of us can put our finger on it at the moment,” admits Tito, who joined the Blues from Taranaki in the summer of 2007. “It was a hell of a season, a dream year, last season, but it means nothing for this year. We picked up a good win against Quins but we stumbled against Sale and we will have to push on again now.

“We have lost a few personnel and we have been unlucky with injuries, but we can’t use that as an excuse to explain why we are battling. The fact is we have lost games that we should have won. We need to kick-start our season sooner rather than later. We must keep working hard and not look to blame anyone; just look at yourself and make sure you are putting your hand up week in, week out, trying to improve the Blues.”

Tito, who has previously skippered Taranaki, The Hurricanes, New Zealand Under-21s and led the New Zealand Maoris to victory in the 2006 Churchill Cup, says that it was “an honour” to take up the captaincy from No8 Xavier Rush last term but adds: “I have been disappointed to miss a few games as captain this season, as it is a much tougher job to gee up the troops when you are losing. It is certainly easier to captain a winning side, but it is when things are not going your team’s way that you should be working hardest.”

The former New Plymouth Boys’ High School attendee is grateful for the presence of former All Black Rush, however. “Xavier has been around Cardiff for a long time now and I’ve never met a man who can sit so many people back down – he runs over them! I’m glad he is on my team rather than against me!”

Ex-international Kiwi full-back Ben Blair also shone for the Blues last season and, with centre Casey Lualua due to make his bow before long alongside British Lion Jamie Roberts, Tito believes that the quality of the All Black trio will stop the Blues’ rot. “I played against these guys for so long in New Zealand and it is a pleasure to be finally playing with them,” he continues.

“I keep a massive eye on the results back home still. Taranaki will always be very close to my heart and I stay in touch with quite a few of those boys – it is always interesting to see how they are doing and what they are up to.”

When asked how he sees the All Blacks’ opening game of their European tour, against Wales in Cardiff on November 8, going Tito suggests that the home side could pull off a shock. “It is as good a time as any for the Welsh to beat the All Blacks – that’s certainly what the South Wales press would have you think,” he grins.

“A year or so again I would have not been able to say that but this year they have a real shot at beating the All Blacks, who are not on top of their game at the moment and are most probably looking ahead to the World Cup in 2011.

“Of course I will definitely supporting the All Blacks over Wales – I’ve still got a lot of my mates in the team. But I think it is going to be the closest game for a long while, certainly since I have been over here. It is a bit of a touchy subject with a few of my Welsh team-mates – I just hope the All Blacks win so that they can’t give me any stick.

“Between World Cups we are normally world beaters and this year that has not been the case. I actually think that it is quite good that they are not flying this time – we want to be peaking at the World Cup on home soil. I hope it is good management rather than good luck that will get us there. I’m sure they will be working hard in camp at the moment after a fairly tough year and they will want to finish off well on tour in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Though Tito rarely ventures back to New Zealand – “the weather’s usually lousy back home when I get time off, so I usually explore Europe instead” – he has vowed to return as a player. “Home is always home – I will definitely be going back one day – but in the meantime I am really enjoying my time with the Blues in Cardiff,” he adds. “It is a great place to live and when the Blues win it makes life pretty good, too. And for now I am concentrating on making that happen again.”

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Work from my six months at the Daily Mirror

Carl Froch: I will knock Andre Dirrell out - even though I have not studied him

Rio Ferdinand meets NBA star LeBron James - video

When sportstars look twits when they use Twitter

Top five gnarly surfing feats - with awesome video

Top 10 most bizarre items put up for auction on eBay

Summer of shame – this year’s top 10 sporting scandals

The snake with a foot and the top 10 freaky animal videos

Jonah Lomu and the top 10 sporting switchers

Top 10 reasons why Venezuela has the most beauty pageant winners

Top 10 biggest disappointments of 2009

Alberto Aquilani profile: 10 things you need to know about the Liverpool target

Bobby Robson: the top 10 highs and lows with video

Top 10 most embarrassing sporting mothers

Top 10 players who are loved so much by managers that the gaffers keep buying them back

Andre-Pierre Gignac scouting report and video: The inside track on the Arsenal target

Top 10 sporting cheats - and some who got away with it

Alvaro Negredo scouting report and video: The inside track on the Tottenham target

The inside track on Manchester United signing Mame Biram Diouf - scouting report and video

Franck Ribery profile: 10 things you need to know about the man bookies are linking with Liverpool

Top 10 magic Wimbledon moments - video special

Joe Hart and the Top 10 goalkeeper goals – a viewing spectacular

Andrea Pirlo profile: 10 Things you need to know about the Chelsea target

Carlos Tevez and the top 10 English-based footballers who have crossed the divide and moved to fierce local rivals

Alexandre Pato profile: 10 things you need to know about the Brazilian wunderkind

Andrew Symonds and the cricket bad-boys XI

How many footballers does it take to change a lightbulb? Our Top 10 most pampered players

Pigeons, bees and dogs: When sports stars and animals collide - video

Lewis Moody aims to achieve a 'special' double against Leinster - for the Tigers family

Chris Lewis and the cricket bad-boys XI

Goran Pandev profile: 10 things you need to know about the Tottenham target

Danny Cipriani misses out on England squad to tour Argentina

Monday, August 31, 2009


Back in 1776, the same year America declared independence and Captain Cook embarked on his fatal voyage to discover the Northwest Passage, former MP Lieutenant Colonel Anthony St Leger suggested to his friend, ex-Prime Minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, that Doncaster should host a spectacular and lucrative horse race; an event that would make locals proud and put the South Yorkshire town firmly on the racing map.

Colts should be eight stone (50.8 kg), instructed St Leger, while fillies ought to be seven stone and twelve pounds (49.9 kg) and, to ensure an excellent field, the winner would be handsomely rewarded with 25 Guineas. Rockingham thought the idea splendid and organised the race, held at Cantley Common on September 24 that year. Five horses ran and one owned by Rockingham romped to victory while St Leger’s came second.

The glorious race had the desired effect: 233 years later the St Leger Stakes, sponsored by Ladbrokes since 2005, will be run on September 12 as the centrepiece of the St Leger Festival. The oldest of the five Classic flat races, attracting champion thoroughbred racers, including numerous horses owned by the British royals, it is also the final leg, following the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, of the British Triple Crown – last won by Nijinsky in 1970. Fittingly, for a race so steeped in rich history, victory in Doncaster will earn a £500,000 purse this year.

It’s not just the horse folk who are likely to profit, either. Since the race’s inception the locals of the small town, founded by the Romans in 1AD – originally a military camp (castra) on the River Don – have reaped the benefits from the biggest four days in Doncaster’s calendar.

Labrokes’ horse racing public relations manager, David Williams, explains: “The St Leger had lurched from one sponsor to another and hadn’t really had the stability that the great race deserved. So we committed to increasing the prize money and ramping up its profile.

“We have seen the numbers though the turnstiles increase every year – that’s a good barometer – and we have worked hard with the racecourse and with the local businesses, so that as many of them are involved as possible.

“We are the oldest bookmakers in the world, the race is the oldest Classic in the world, so our partnership is a very natural fit. The Yorkshire racing crowd are among the most passionate in the land – and they certainly know how to enjoy themselves. Most importantly, the festival is a hell of a lot of fun for all involved.”

Alan Severn, manager of Geraghty Racing, a bookmakers local to Doncaster and five minutes’ walk away from Town Moor – where the racing now takes place, two miles west of the original course – expects the town to be booming when the four-day festival begins on September 9, and predicts over 100,000 people, from near and far, will enjoy the racing.

Indeed some 27,000 watched Frankie Dettori steer Conduit over the 1m 6½f course in three minutes and seven seconds to finish first in last year’s Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes – the Italian jockey’s fifth success in the race (still four victories behind Bill Scott who rode nine winners between 1821-46).

“We always look forward to the St Leger stakes – it has that special mystic about it because it is the oldest of the Classics,” says Severn. “The top jockeys and trainers are here and it’s usually a decent race. It’s the last Classic of the season and then it’s winter. They say, ‘the last horse that crosses the line in the St Leger has got snow on its tail’.

“There is a real buzz around the town and the build-up to the festival is very exciting. Everybody comes down here suited and booted and Ladies Day, Thursday, is usually sold out well in advance – all the girls dress up and look fantastic. It’s a great spectacle, and with it having a Group 1 race we get people from all over. But it is very well supported by local people from Yorkshire.”

And how do Gerherty Racing compete with the national bookmakers? Severn explains: “With it being our big festival of the year we have a lot of promotions – guaranteed prices, quarterly odds on all the races and Lucky15s.

“If people want to go to the St Leger Festival mainly for the social side of things, they can put their bets on with us before they head to the course and then enjoy their afternoon without that hassle. We are also the local bookmaker on-course, so we do very well out of the week.”

But the bookies could do even better if a horse with long odds romps to victory, which seldom happens during the Festival. Indeed, in the last 15 St Leger Stakes a total of 11 have been won by the favourite – and the lowest odds for any of the 15 winning horses was 8/1.

“I can’t see it being any different this year,” Severn continues. “If the best horses turn up and the ground is right, then we don’t usually get outsiders winning it anymore. It’s not great for us – we want a big price winner – but we will smile as usual.”

The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Harbinger was cut to short odds for this year’s Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes after his Gordon Stakes victory at Goodwood in late July and, after Conduit’s success last year, Stoute will be hoping for impressive back-to-back victories in Doncaster.

However Aiden O’Brien, who is no stranger to success in the race having trained three previous winners (Milan 2001, Brian Boru 2003, Scorpion 2005), is confident, with 15 entries in the 41-stong field, he can upset Stoute’s hegemony. His Irish Derby runner-up, Golden Sword, is Labrokes’ favourite at 4-1. As with St Leger and Rockingham’s chargers in 1776, the focal point of the St Leger Festival again promises to be fascinating and profitable for all involved.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Mirror work early May / late April

Mike Catt looks to write history and tame Leicester Tigers – just don’t mention retirement

Back in 2003, when he was 32-years old, Mike Catt helped England make history when – against the odds – his team defeated Australia in Sydney to lift the World Cup for the first, and last, time. Tomorrow the evergreen fly-half will be looking to rewrite the record books again, when he steps out at Twickenham in the Guinness Premiership Final.

South African-born Catt moved to London Irish five years ago, having been labelled a has-been after over decade at Bath. And, under the guidance of first Brian Smith – now England’s backs coach – and Toby Booth, Irish have become a force to be reckoned with. Catt has very much been at the centre of this new-found success.

Last Saturday the 37-year-old made one try and scored another in the 17-0 win over Harlequins at the Stoop in the Guinness Premiership semi-final. That victory earned the Exiles their first Guinness Premiership final in their long history – and now they are playing the most formidable opponents possible, in Leicester Tigers.

Leicester, who finished top of the tree in the domestic season and have a Heineken Cup Final to play against Leinster next Saturday, have made it to the Guinness Premiership Final day in each of the past five years.

To many observers it looks as though it will be slingshots against giants, but that does not faze Catt. He says: “We are playing against the most experienced, streetwise side in the Premiership – they have been in the final every year for the past five years. All those players have been involved in big Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership final games – they know how to win games.

“But so do we, as we have proved this season. We have been consistent throughout – and the Guinness Premiership Final is our just rewards. The most we have lost a game by is six points in the whole season. We have got points irrespective of who we are playing. We have put ourselves in a very good position. It has been a fantastic season. We have scored more tries than anybody else and defensively we have bullied sides.

“The difference for us this season has been our fitness, power and pace. In the past two or three years we have been bullied by teams but now we are standing toe-to-toe with them. That is great for our confidence. We have not changed much from what Brian Smith brought to the table. We have the players and we know the game we really want to play. All we have done is tried to cut out those small individual errors.

“It is about us playing our way and making sure that we don’t make unforced errors. We need to be very technical in what we do. We are a very emotional side, London Irish, so we just have to make sure that we are not too emotionally charged up. Moreover, the guys have just got to enjoy the moment.”

Irish, who name an unchanged team from last week’s win – including centre Seilala Mapusua, the man named Players’ Player of the Year on Wednesday, England second row Nick Kennedy and captain Bob Casey, all of who were doubtful – have the ability to tame the Tigers. With a decent set-piece line-out, in particular, and game-changing athletes in Delon and Steffon Armitage, tomorrow’s game could go right to the wire.

And when asked whether it would provide a fitting stage for his final bow in a glittering career, Catt – who turns 38 in September – hints that he may be around for another season, yet. “I’ve always been of the mindset, never say never,” he continues. “Leaving Bath was a massive gut-wrenching thing for me to do, having achieved so much in my 11 years there. For them to discard me in the way that they did was very hard to take.

“But it opened another door for me. The first year was very tough as I did not play much rugby. But then Brian Smith turned up and we based the game around playing. Since then we have developed and every year we have got better and better. And it has been great fun doing it.

“I’m passionate about the game and I love playing. London Irish’s man-management of me has been fantastic over the past three or four years – if I can’t train a couple of days a week they let me take time out. Then, if I don’t perform on a Saturday they can drop me. But they way that it has worked out it has definitely helped – and meant that I can still play at the age I am.

“If I announce my retirement now then it would take something away from what London Irish have achieved this season. I have no interest in doing that, first of all. I think this will only be my fifteenth game of the season – whereas some of the other guys have played nearer 30 games. I’m not going to announce my retirement before a big game – it’s not all about me. It is about London Irish.

“I will make a decision over the summer in my time off. But we have brought in two fly-halves – Ryan Lamb, who is a great catch for us, and Chris Malone. They have both picked up serious injuries, and we will know, in a few months time when pre-season starts, whether these guys are going to be OK for the start of the season. If not, then I will do a pre-season and do the start of the season. When they are fit and healthy and raring to go then can just take a back seat. That is the way I am thinking at the moment.”

Stephen Jones on banishing his Lions demons

Mike Catt overcomes flu to inspire London Irish to victory over Harlequins in the Guinness Premiership semi-final

Ugo Monye previews that semi-final and speaks about his Lions selection

A profile of Franck Ribery, who Manchester United want - and are willing to pay a reported £63m for

And 10 things you need to know about the departing Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Mirror work

A profile of Manchester United target Karim Benzema.

Tony Cascarino predicts “problems in the not too distant future” for Ipswich Town and Roy Keane

Shaun Edwards preparing Lions for “three World Cup finals” against South Africa

More white on the night - with British Lions' coach Ian McGeechan expect the unexpected

Jeremy Guscott selects three England players in his Lions XV

Exclusive: Andy Nicol bemoans lack of Scots in line for British Lions selection

Paul O’Connell confirmed as British and Irish Lions captain to tour South Africa

Top 10 goalkeepers' goals – a viewing spectacular

Top 10 British sporting father and sons

Phil "The Power" Taylor: I can be darts champ for at least another 10 years

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Sunday, April 19, 2009


Hull Kingston Rovers ended their Stoop hoodoo by defeating Harlequins 32-12 on Sunday afternoon. The away side, who had never before won in Twickenham, were four points down at the break but romped to victory with 28 unanswered points.

Quins drew first blood, scoring in the corner through Mat Gardner after 12 minutes. Skipper Rob Purdham converted but the Robins hit back four minutes later through Kris Welham.

Harlequins’ lock Chad Robinson crashed over in the 21st minute. But with 10 minutes of the half left Rovers’ winger and top scorer Peter Fox crossed for his ninth try of the season to give Quins a 12-8 lead at the break.

But Brian McDermott’s team lost influential scrum-half Danny Orr and prop Daniel Heckenberg to injury and the away side took charge six minutes into the second half when Paul Cooke went over and Dobson converted.

Hull KR then extended their advantage through Liam Colbon and when Ben Galea crossed for two converted tries the score raced to 32-12 to Hull KR with 10 minutes to go.

Robins coach Justin Morgan said: “In the second half we had a much better selection of plays.

“We kicked a lot better and we had some excellent individual performances. I don’t think too many teams will come down here and win.”

Disappointed Quins head coach McDermott added: “When you lose Danny Orr and a prop down it’s always going to be difficult. Credit to Hull KR - they were just smarter than us in the second half."

Harlequins: Chris Melling, Mat Gardner, Matthew Gafa, David Howell, Will Sharp, Luke Dorn, Danny Orr; Karl Temata, Chad Randall, Danny Ward, Chad Robinson, Luke Williamson, Robert Purdham

Interchange: Louis McCarty-Scarsbrook, Daniel Heckenberg, Jason Golden, Luke Gale

Tries: Gardner, Randall
Goals: Purdham 2 (2)

Hull KR: Daniel Fitzhenry, Peter Fox, Jake Webster, Kris Welham, Liam Colbon, Paul Cooke, Michael Dobson, Clint Newton; Ben Fisher, Scott Wheeldon, Stanley Gene, Ben Galea, Scott Murrell

Interchange: Jason Netherton, Charlie I'Anson, Makali Aizue, Michael Vella

Tries: Welham, Fox, Cooke, Colbon, Galea 2
Goals: Dobson 4 (6)

Friday, April 17, 2009


Last week, on April 9, two cricket teams, largely made up of bonkers Englishmen, flew from London to the Himalayas to begin an 18-day trek, where a Twenty20 game will be played near to base camp of Mount Everest - at a staggering 5,165m.

It's just not cricket, I hear you cry! Well, it is. And the Guinness Book of Records have agreed that if the match, named The Everest Test, does go ahead, it will set a new world record for the highest altitude for a game of field sport.

Two years ago the Professional Cricket Association attempted something similar, raising £35,000 for charity, but the match was not recognised as it was only an eight over, six-a-side affair.

This year, however, there will be an eleven-a-side game, which will be held on the plateau of Gorak Shep, where there is only 66 per cent of the oxygen found at sea level. Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

The two squads, named Tenzing and Hillary after Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary who on May 29, 1953 became the first people to summit Mount Everest, have appointed honorary captains - England skipper Andrew Strauss and Test batsman Alastair Cook respectively.

They hope to raise an incredible £250,000 for The Himalayan Trust, The Lord's Taverners and the local Khumjung School. For more information on the charities, visit

Check out their website (and a cool GPS tracking gadget) - - and the blog -

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Read my blog HERE.


Nick Evans has already had a memorable first season in England, having inspired London Harlequins to their best ever run in Europe’s premium competition, the Heineken Cup. Also Quins topped the Guinness Premiership last month for the first time since 2003 and, with the play-off semi-finals to be contested on May 9, look set for their best finish in the domestic league for years. But is has not all been plain sailing for the All Black stand-off.

On Easter Sunday Evans, who moved from the Highlanders last June, was crocked in Quins’ Heineken Cup quarter-final against Brian O’Driscoll’s Leinster – and his team lost out 6-5. The 28-year-old, who hyper extended his right leg in a first-half tackle, crunching his knee, was called back off the bench for the remaining five minutes of the bruising encounter, after two other fly-halves had hobbled off needing treatment.

Heavily strapped and in obvious pain, Evans was found by England scrum-half Danny Care in the pocket, and – through gritted teeth – he used all of his energy to unleash a drop-kick that would have taken his new team to the final four of the Heineken Cup for the first time in their history. Earlier in the season he had attempted a similar feat and laced the winning kick – “the ugliest I have ever taken!” – to inflict a superb double over French giants Stade Francais that made the rugby world jolt up and take notice.

But this time lady luck shunned him and the Heineken Cup fairytale ended. “The kick had the distance to go over but it just faded to the left,” says Evans. “I gave it everything. My knee was really sore, but it wasn’t the running around, it was the kicking; that’s pretty crucial for a fly-half. I came on in the last few minutes when Deano (coach Dean Richards) gave me the nod, and I gave it a crack. I was fortunate enough to get a chance – but it wasn’t to be.”

Evans hopes he can return in time for Quins’ Guinness Premiership semi-final, having had four weeks to ready his knee, and help his team challenge for the Guinness Premiership, a title that has so far eluded them. And with the young team bristling with self-belief, Evans believes that even if this year does not finish with silverware, it will not be far away and Harlequins will prove they have come of age – and he very much wants to remain at the heart of that.

He continues: “The game against Leinster provided a good learning curve for the club – now we know we can do it and compete against Europe’s best. We were unlucky, but sometimes that happens. It was new territory for the club and the players. We are growing up as a team and next time we will be wiser.

“Now we have to focus on the Guinness Premiership and securing our play-off place. We could not dwell too much on the Leinster defeat. There is every chance that my knee will settle down and I’m available for the semi-final.”

Musing on the two victories against Stade Francais, which he calls two of the best matches he has ever been a part of, Evans says: “Those sensational games feel even more special now – when I said that they were up there with the top five that I have ever played in, that was straight after the match.

“And now I have spoken to many of the fans and they have told me those games are two of the biggest in the club’s history – that has made it even more special. Hopefully we can kick on from those results and know that in big situations we can pull it out if we need to.”

In early December, in front of 76,000 partisan Stade Francais supporters, Evans laced five points in a shock 15-10 win. A week later, in much more inclement weather, Quins were losing 17-16 when, with normal time elapsed and after an amazing 29 phases, they battled their way into the French team’s 22 and gave Evans the opportunity to drop the winning goal – and he duly did.

He continues: “Those 29 phases were unbelievable – it was bizarre rugby. I’ve never been involved in anything like that before. And that’s what rugby is all about – that’s why people watch and love the game. It was a tough game and the weather was pretty awful but the crowd were sensational.

“It’s funny, those moments are what you play for – it was special. Initially those moments wash over you. First of all I was pleased that we had won those back-to-back games. It’s only when the fans come up to you and show their emotions – that’s when you see how special it really is.”

And after ten months in the capital, the former Auckland Blues stand-off is fully settled into London life, though he does miss his fishing off the coast of New Zealand. Away from rugby Evans relaxes by going to West End musicals – “the Lion King and Mama Mia were great, and helped broaden my cultural horizons!” – and catching Premier League football matches. “But I do miss the coast of New Zealand,” he concedes. “I would take a boat and go around the island off the coast, and completely relax away from rugby. But now I am fully settled here and I’m loving it.”

Evans is determined to win Quins trophies, and adds: “I’ve signed for three years and I am very happy at Quins. We have a young team but I think we have exceeded our goals this year. If we can keep going over the next few years hopefully we can pick up a trophy – that would be amazing.”

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