WHERE ARE THEY NOW | Mark Evans
Forty-one years ago Mark Evans made his debut in the Saracens first team . . . against London Irish! It sounds as though the topic for this week’s ‘where are they now?’ feature was purposefully selected with last Sunday's opponents in mind. Not a bit of it!
It just happened to be a happy coincidence that the former Sarries hooker, coach and director of rugby remembered his first game in the 1st team at a club he joined after moving to London to teach.
“There weren’t a lot of cubs in the north London area and so my flatmate and I went along to Saracens. They were the nearest club, a mere two miles down the road, and they ran eight teams,” recalled Evans.
“I had played at school, Christ College, Brecon, at Cambridge and Bristol Universities and for my home town team, St Peter’s, in Cardiff. There was a wonderful tradition at Saracens when we joined that meant every new player, regardless of standard, had to play in the 4th XV in their first game.
“My debut in a Saracens jersey was for ‘The Turks’ against Barnet 2nd XV way back in 1981. I wasn’t the biggest or best hooker in the world, but I was fit, keen and technically sound.
“I got my shot at a first team game against London Irish around Easter in 1981. We were pretty awful at that time and I can remember one of the newspaper reports of that game saying our front row were ‘hard pressed’ - we were murdered!
“I think I ended up playing around 80 games for the 1st XV and another 100 or so for the 2nds between 1981-88. Then John McFarland came along and I knew I had no chance of playing ahead of him and so I hung up my boots at 28.
“In that time we made a lot of progress, much of which was down to Floyd Steadman’s leadership on the field and Tony Russ’ innovative coaching off it. We had a sports psychologist, we did video analysis on our opponents and the whole thing moved forward.
“We were still only training on Tuesday and Thursday nights under pretty awful lights, but as we got better, some better players joined us. We still kept on losing our better players to other clubs around us, but that all changed when the game went pro.”
Evans admits to always wanting to become a coach and he cut his teeth on the Eastern Counties U19 team when he was 25. Eric Peters was in that team, along with a number of other players who would go on to play at a high level, and Russ then invited him to work with the 2nd XV.
When Russ went to Leicester it was Evans who stepped up to be the assistant coach at the club and then finally head coach and director of rugby as the game moved into the professional era.
“I spent almost 20 years as a player and coach at Saracens and was fortunate to straddle the amateur and professional eras. I’ve got friends for life from my time at the club and a host of great memories,” he added.
“By the end of the eighties Sarries were probably the third best team in London behind Harlequins and Wasps. We didn’t have the advantages that they had, yet as soon as the game went professional everything changed.
“For me, the team that won the Tetley Bitter Cup in 1998 was the best I worked with. We could, and probably should, have done the double that season, but lost out to Newcastle.”
Evans left at the end of the 1999-2000 season to become chief executive at Harlequins. He spent a decade at The Stoop before setting up his own company, Capacity Consulting Ltd.
He almost became the head coach of Wales in 2004, spent time in Australia, where he worked in both rugby league (Melbourne Storm) and rugby union (Western Force), and enjoyed a recent foray into netball as chair of the Vitality Netball League.
He is back working as a consultant once again and is working on a variety of sporting projects. He will never forget, however, the time he spent at Saracens.
MARK EVANS’ SARACENS DREAM TEAM – AMATEUR ERA
15 Andy Tunningley
14 Andy Phillips
13 John Buckton
12 Dan Dooley
11 Daren O’Leary
10 Ben Rudling
9 Floyd Steadman
1 Jason Leonard
2 Steve Jones
3 Richie Andrews
4 John Howe
5 Lee Adamson
6 Ben Clarke
7 Reza Khalili
8 Dean Ryan
Replacements: Micky Grier, John McFarland, Stuart Wilson, Barry Crawley, Justyn Cassell, Brian Davies, Lawrence Smith, Steve Hancock
MARK EVANS’ SARACENS DREAM TEAM – PROFESSIONAL ERA
15 Gavin Johnson
14 Ryan Constable
13 Philippe Sella
12 Steve Ravenscroft
11 Richard Wallace
10 Michael Lynagh
9 Kyran Bracken
1 Roberto Grau
2 George Chuter
3 Paul Wallace
4 Paddy Johns
5 Danny Grewcock
6 Richard Hill
7 Francois Pienaar
8 Tony Diprose
Replacements: Greg Bottomley, David Flatman, Julian Whitte, Tony Copsey, Kris Chesney, Max Howell, Alain Penaud, Kevin Sorrell