Six Nations: Place on the bench not a problem for Max Evans as he returns full focus to rugby

THERE are always contenders in sporting interviews for “misplaced question of the day” but the query to Max Evans yesterday as to whether he was unhappy at being named on the Scotland bench was a pretty good candidate.

The 28-year-old was forced off in only the 15th minute of Scotland’s match with Wales, the second game of Scotland’s RBS Six Nations Championship. It was in the same Cardiff stadium in which, two years before, his brother Thom suffered a spinal injury that forced him to quit rugby altogether. And then Evans returned to Scotland, his ankle in a protective boot, to begin a week-long court trial in which it was alleged that he had attacked a man with a glass in an Edinburgh nightclub. It is possible, therefore, that Evans’ parents could even sense his relief from their home in Portugal when he was first cleared of any wrongdoing in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday and then included in Scotland’s squad yesterday for this weekend’s penultimate Six Nations clash with Ireland.

The fact that he was not in the starting line-up hardly mattered. He was back in rugby with his focus was again on playing for Scotland.

“I respect Andy’s decision and completely understood,” Evans said. “I’m just happy to be selected in the 22 and have this focus on this week. If I hadn’t been involved with Scotland I would have been involved with my club, but it’s great to have rugby to get stuck into again.

“It is nice to be looking ahead again. It’s been easy enough to put it [court trial] on the shelf and focus on my rugby, but last week was difficult, obviously, as I’ve never been in that situation before. I’m sure it’s difficult for everyone in that situation.

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“I’m relieved and very pleased that it’s over now and I can put it behind me. I have such a love for rugby that having that has actually been a support, as well as friends, family, team-mates, everyone really. I’m very grateful for all their support.”

Evans agreed that his public profile had lifted considerably in recent years, not least with his move to French club Castres, but insisted that the court case had not changed his view of mixing socially with supporters, that he felt “privileged” and that people were, on the whole, very positive and supportive.

Understandably eager to help the Scotland team return to winning ways, however, Evans was a contender to go straight back into the Scotland side, either on the wing or at outside centre, but coach Andy Robinson has shown faith in the three-quarters that finished the game against France despite the defeat. Evans can be expected to play his part in an improving Scottish attack off the bench and he is excited about teaming up with the young talent Stuart Hogg, the teenage full-back who has made an impact in the time Evans has been off the field.

One of the squad’s most unpredictable attackers, it is likely that Robinson will look to use the 5ft 9in dynamo in the second half to expose holes in the Irish defence, but having played against the Irish provinces as well as the national side Evans is acutely aware of the need to first break free of the Irish “choke tackle” shackles.

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“I’m excited about being on the pitch with him [Hogg]. I’ve been on the training paddock with him and I’ve seen how dangerous he is. I’m always telling people to come with me when I get the ball because I’ll be hoping to do something and it’s the same with him. If I see him with the ball I’ll look to get with him.

“The Irish defence is good, and the important thing with the ‘choke tackle’ is that the guys in support when you’re tackled need to get there quicker so you have more numbers for them when they’re trying to hold you up. It is a difficult thing to deal with, but it’s one we have to get right to come out on top.

“It’s a great skill, but you have to be careful. Irish teams have been penalised in the past for not quite getting it right. We’ll deal with it on the day.”

A tough few weeks behind him, the familiar Evans smile returned as he added: “There’s nothing I need to think about now except the rugby and it’s good to have that.”