Rugby: Otago flanker to prove point on familiar turf

Otago loose forward Gareth Evans prepares to catch a ball at training at Logan Park this week....
Otago loose forward Gareth Evans prepares to catch a ball at training at Logan Park this week. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Gareth Evans will be in familiar territory when he goes into battle for Otago against Hawkes Bay in Napier tonight.

He is back where he grew up.

He is staying at his old school hostel at Napier Boys' High School. His parents and friends will be in the crowd.

And the opposition will have some faces he knows a fair bit about.

"We've got Brad Weber and me and they have the little ginger in their team, Ihaia West, and that was the 8-9-10 partnership we had in school in 2009," he said.

"We had a good team that year. Made it to the top four...

"I have great memories from there. The hostel was good times.

[I] made some fantastic friends and I'm flatting with a couple of them still, down here."

There may be plenty of familiar sights for Evans but he does not want a repeat of last year when the home side triumphed over Otago.

The match looms as a crunch one for both sides, as Hawkes Bay gets into a relegation dogfight in the Premiership, while Otago wants to stay in the upper reaches of the Championship.

Evans said Otago needed to stand strong up front, and get away to a good start.

"I think we have got to muscle up in the forwards. Our second-half defence against Tasman showed us the way we have to play.

"Obviously, we didn't start too well against Tasman, conceding that try after 30 seconds. But we talked about it and said just to flush it and start again.

"And we managed to score a try at the start of the second half which got us away."

Evans (21) is capable of playing all three loose forward positions.

He said he was not too fussed on where he played as long as he was on the paddock. He had been in and out of team at the start of the season but has played well in the past few games.

Evans, the younger brother of former All Black and Hawkes Bay lock Bryn Evans, said confidence levels improved after getting a run of games and the team playing well.

Studying for a Bachelor of Science in geography at the University of Otago, he should get his degree by next year. Super 15 was a goal but he had not heard anything yet and was just concentrating on playing as well as possible.

Evans will have to be on form tonight for Hawkes Bay fields a strong loose forward trio in Karl Lowe, captain Mike Coman and Tivaini Fomai. Lowe always seems to play well against Otago, while Coman will be in the thick of the battle.

Otago has scored nearly 100 points in its past two games as it gets its attacking game working. It needs to keep doing so against a Bay side which must start winning to lift from the bottom of the premiership table.

The home side will have to do without first five-eighth Dan Waenga, who was declared unfit yesterday. He has been replaced by West, who looks to have some tricks up his sleeve.

Otago v Hawkes Bay
Napier, tonight, 7.35pm

Referee: Garratt Williamson (Wellington)
TAB odds: Hawkes Bay $1.55, Otago $2.35

Otago: Tony Ensor, Marshall Suckling, Jayden Spence, Glenn Dickson, Buxton Popoali'i, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Paul Grant (captain), Lee Allan, Gareth Evans, Rob Verbakel, Tom Franklin, Liam Coltman, Shota Horie, Tama Tuirirangi.
Reserves: Sam Anderson-Heather, Aki Seiuli, Justin Ives, TJ Ioane, Brad Weber, Peter Breen, Adam Hill.

Hawkes Bay: Andrew Horrell, Gillies Kaka, Tino Nemani, Marvin Karawana, Penikolo Latu, Ihaia West, Chris Eaton, Karl Lowe, Tivaini Fomai, Mike Coman (captain), Johan Schoonbee, Ross Kennedy, Pete Borlase, Hika Elliot, Adrian Barone.
Reserves: Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Tom Parsons, Adam Bradey, Isaac Paewai, Star Timu, Nick McLennan.


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