Listen to Nick Evans explain what he will bring as England’s new attack coach and his priority could not be clearer. Clarity will be the order of the day when the New Zealander steps into the Test arena – not so much an instant transfer of all the intricacies of Harlequins’ swashbuckling attack but to strip things back, avoid “death by detail” and bring direction to the players who have already told Steve Borthwick it has been lacking of late. And no more so than to the partnership between Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell.
Evans’s views on the Smith-Farrell axis are fascinating. He is Smith’s mentor at Harlequins and in these pages as a columnist he has previously praised Farrell’s qualities of him. When he says: “There’s no reason they can’t play together,” it implies that they have not dovetailed to great effect to date, that the muddle that clouded so much of England’s thinking in the final matches under Jones was borne out in their partnerships.
“But you have to be very clear, and again it comes back to clarity, in what we are trying to achieve, how are we doing this, how does that go about, what does that detail look like?” added Evans, who confirmed Smith will make his comeback from injury against Racing 92 on Sunday. “And then once everyone is clear on that then you can go through. As I said some of the feedback was that maybe it wasn’t there, so maybe there was a bit of a crossover.”
Evans frequently returns to the theme. He acknowledges that as an assistant coach who will begin his role two weeks before England host Scotland, there is a need to keep things simple. In the early weeks you sense his biggest job will be to unravel the knots that England had tied themselves in before taking the attack in a new direction.
“We had a meeting last night and I’ve talked to Steve a few times, and I think the main word that’s come out is clarity around how we play,” he said. “A system is hard to change. When it’s been ingrained it takes a while, even in pre-season here [at Harlequins] it would take six weeks to start embedding a new system. So I don’t have that time.
“Sometimes the old death by detail can be a thing. The over-complication of things. The international game is new for me as well and there’s the amount of time we have with players. They come in off their programs for their clubs and they’re a little bit beat up. We’ve got a week and then we’re playing Scotland. There’s not a lot of time on field, but more time off field. So the information needs to be really clear and direct.”
Evans is in effect on loan to England. The Rugby Football Union has still not confirmed Martin Gleeson’s departure but it was inevitable upon Evans’s appointment as attack coach. During the two Six Nations fallow weeks he will be working with Harlequins but doing so from the England camp and while he is set to return to the club after the tournament it may not be for too long.
Borthwick may well want Richard Wigglesworth to join him in the summer but it would be madness to have someone start all over again so close to the World Cup. If Evans tries a hit, then, the job may well be his for the tournament in France at least.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” Evans said. “Like any player you want to get the best out of yourself and as a coach it’s no different. When these opportunities come about I’ve always felt I wanted to jump at them. I did when I left New Zealand and I did when I jumped into coaching because I wasn’t initially going to go down that route.
“The club have been brilliant with this opportunity and now that I’ve got it I’ll give it 100%, sacrifice everything to get the best out of myself and with the players for England, and then I’ll come back and do the same with Harlequins. Whatever happens after that…”