HAVING spent the summer dealing with his shock at being left out of Scotland’s tour, Max Evans admits he is now bidding to benefit from Tim Visser’s misfortune and push himself back into contention to face Japan on the wing.
Evans has featured both at outside centre and on the wing for Scotland in his 35 Tests and, while he prefers being closer to the action in the midfield, the 30-year-old is now eager to pull on any jersey simply to get himself back into the international fold.
But the competition for places is arguably tougher now than when he started his international career and, having started this season at Castres with niggling injuries – he was still nursing a bruised leg at this week’s training camp – Evans faces a genuine battle just for a place in the Test squad.
He came off the bench in three Six Nations matches and last enjoyed a Test start in what turned out to be an ill-fated defeat by Tonga that signalled the end of Andy Robinson’s tenure as Scotland head coach. Sean Maitland has since come into the picture, closely followed by Tommy Seymour, to increase competition for wingers, while Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar have joined Nick de Luca as contenders for the No 13 jersey.
“I was over the moon to be selected in the squad,” acknowledged Evans, “and these last couple of days back with the team have been great – it’s what you want.
“I’ve never lost the thirst for the starting jersey but you feel it even more when you are back competing against the guys. If you get frustrated, I think it clouds things a little bit. I felt very privileged to be on the bench in the Six Nations and I got that opportunity against France, and you’ve just got to take your opportunities.
“It [Visser’s injury] is obviously devastating for the team, but that is one starting winger who is not going to be involved in the squad and someone has to take his place, so there is going to be competition for his position.
“But the number of young wingers coming through – with the likes of Tommy Seymour at Glasgow – shows that there is still really tough competition for places, so it doesn’t really change that much. I’d be happy to play wherever.
“I think I’m one of those players who can do both and it just so happens I have been playing wing more regularly recently. I played centre in pre-season but haven’t had any time there in the league, so it would be nice to get a couple of games under my belt there before going into an international there, but I can’t really see that happening.”
Scotland interim head coach Scott Johnson has intriguing selections to make across the side with the calls for most places far from clear-cut. He seemed to have given himself a host of options in the back three after naming a number of versatile backs in his initial 41-man squad.
Greig Tonks is the only out-and-out full-back, Sean Maitland can play wing and full-back, and Seymour and Sean Lamont are the other wings. Duncan Taylor was another option for wing but the Saracens man missed this week’s training camp in Glasgow with a shoulder knock so looks unlikely to be in contention for the Japan match, while Lamont can also step into the midfield.
Alex Dunbar is nursing a shoulder injury while Jim Hamilton and Euan Murray also missed some training this week with knocks.
The first autumn Test is just ten days’ away, and Glasgow pair Maitland and Seymour – the latter missed training yesterday with a calf strain but will be fit – are top of the queue on fitness and form. Johnson has already stated that he will use the games to try some new combinations, but he will also be looking for some reassuring experience and quality in key positions.
If Maitland is picked in his recent Glasgow role of full-back with Seymour on one wing, Lamont and Evans are fighting for the other berth. But Johnson could also opt for Edinburgh’s Tonks at full-back with Maitland and Seymour starting on the wings, and Evans viewed as a good versatile bench choice.
Evans certainly believes that he is in better form to push for a return now, having benefited from Johnson’s decision to leave him and De Luca at home when a youthful squad headed for South Africa in June.
“It was a little bit of a shock at first,” he said. “Although I didn’t feature much in the Six Nations, I was on the bench for every game and came on against the French at the end – when I felt I performed well. It was a bit of a shock to be excluded from the tour but Johnno had his reasons, which were fair enough. There were a few young guys he wanted to have a look at but also, more importantly, it gave me a good off-season and a good pre-season.
“I didn’t realise until I started pre-season that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a pre-season from the very start and it did me a world of good because I felt great at the start of the season. It’s just frustrating that I couldn’t carry on that good start because of a few niggly little injuries.”
Evans is nursing a dead leg suffered in Castres’ Heineken Cup defeat at Leinster two weeks ago but hopes to be fit by next week, in time to raise the stakes in the battle for back-line spots.