If fate had played him a different hand, Thom Evans would currently be gearing up for his second Rugby World Cup. Right now, he would be pushing both his body and his mind to breaking point to be ready for the kick off on September 18.
The reality, of course, is that Evans never graced a Rugby World Cup and sadly never will, because fate has a very funny sense of humour. And not always funny ha-ha.
In February 2010, earning his 10th cap for Scotland in the Six Nations match against Wales, Evans succumbed to an innocuous looking injury that ended his involvement. As the full extent of the injury emerged, it soon ended his Rugby World Cup hopes and then called time on his career. Happily, as we meet in London to look forward to Rugby World Cup 2015, he has made a full physical recovery. Five years on, however, and the mental pain of missing out on Rugby Union’s greatest occasion still burns .
"Playing for your country in a World Cup is the absolute pinnacle for any player," he explains. "Playing in a World Cup was the big dream for me as a kid growing up, just as it is for almost every player who comes into the Game. Everything I’d worked for as a youngster, all the sacrifices I had made to get to where I was…"
Even now it’s hard for Evans to talk about that fateful February afternoon. Not so much because of the pain of his injury, but because of what he has subsequently missed out on. "The Tournament is so special," he says. "I just wished I’d been able to make it. But I guess that’s life. I’m grateful to have represented Scotland and for all the memories the Game gave me. I know how fortunate I am."
The World In His Hands
Thom Evans took up Rugby at an early age, blessed with searing speed inherited from his sprinter mum. Long before opting to represent Scotland, he rose through the England’s junior ranks. "I remember so much of my childhood was geared around the Game," he recalls, the smile having returned to his face.
"It was tough in many respects because I had to make so many sacrifices; the training, the diet, just the whole lifestyle was something you had to completely commit to. I remember being 15 and thinking that I was missing out on so much, because my mates were all going off on holiday and I was going away to Rugby camps. But looking back now, they were some of the happiest days of my life."
They were also some of the most important, forging Evans’ character for the journey ahead. "Playing Rugby taught me so many key skills that have been vital in my life," he smiles. "Leadership, respect, discipline… they are all crucial in the Game and crucial in your life as a whole."
Evans knows better than most that unexpected twists can lurk along life’s road. After retiring from rugby, he took his natural speed to athletics and the sprinting circuit, then appeared on the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. "That, by some distance, was the most terrifying experience of my life," he laughs now. “Even more terrifying than facing New Zealand’s ‘haka’!” In more recent months he has begun to actively pursue an acting career. But before he can fully turn his attention to treading the boards or the silver screen, there is the small matter of the Rugby World Cup 2015 to consider.
Let The Games Begin!
Even though Evans is not involved, his passion for Rugby World Cup hasn’t diminished. "I genuinely cannot wait for the Tournament to begin," he says, and his eyes reignite in confirmation. "All the big nations are stepping up and so many of them have a genuine chance of winning it. New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France, Ireland, Wales as decent outsiders and of course England."
Will playing host help or hinder England’s chances? "It’ll help them, without doubt," he says. "The whole nation will get behind them and if they can get out of their pool on top, England can definitely win the whole thing. A lot of it is down to preparation and how they approach it, but from what I’ve heard from some of the guys in the camp, their training has been incredibly brutal and they’re going to be absolutely ready."
Re-animated and energised at the prospect of 48 matches in 44 days, Evans has the look of an excitable child again. He would happily sit discussing the possible permutations of the pool matches and plotting each nation’s path to the Twickenham final all afternoon and long into the night, but we have to push him for an answer to the key question. Who will win?
"Oh my word that’s tough," he sighs. "So, so tough. My heart obviously says Scotland but my head… I think it has to be South Africa. They just have a knack for Rugby World Cups and that makes them pretty formidable."
Whoever prevails on October 31, Evans expects an extraordinary spectacle. "It will be amazing, the best Rugby World Cup we’ve ever seen," he promises. "Watching it is the next best thing to playing in it and I cannot wait."
This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Nick Harper.