The Gazelle Prepares to Face the Ox

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Gazelle Prepares to Face the Ox


Byline: Chris Jones

[bar] HEN Harlequins No10 Nick Evans was unceremoniously knocked over by Luke McAlister, the Toulouse fly-half, a week ago it summed up his side's problems as their 14-game unbeaten run came to halt in a Heineken Cup clash that is repeated in France on Sunday.

McAlister, in the words of his fellow All Black Evans, is a " big unit" and that is how the entire Toulouse team could have been described as they battered the Premiership leaders into submission 21-10 at the Twickenham Stoop, making this return match a seemingly hopeless assignment in hostile territory.

Successive Cup defeats would seriously harm Quins' chances of making the knock-out stages of Europe's premier rugby tournament. Coming at the end of a week that has seen scrum-half Danny Care fined by police for being drunk and disorderly and ordered by Quins to make a substantial donation to a cancer unit following a disciplinary hearing, the club could do without another highprofile beating at the hands of bigspending Toulouse.

Evans, one of the most experienced players in the Quins side, acknowledges the importance of this fixture but draws hope from previous Cup assignments, including a win in Paris against Stade Francais.

Given their Kiwi backgrounds, was there more to that shoulder barge that McAlister delivered? "I think it was just a case of Luke being a big unit and targeting my channel which meant I ended up on the floor because he is the size of a mountain ox and I am only a little gazelle," said Evans. "It's all fun. It's what rugby is all about and he uses the family genes. I know his dad really well and he's a big lad, too. I must have been eating too much fish as a youngster instead of meat."

Evans admits the burden of being unbeaten could have affected the team against Toulouse but, having lost, a weight may have been lifted off Quins' shoulders. With their Premiership run of 10 consecutive wins still intact -- they next face champions Saracens at Twickenham on December 27 -- the season has not suddenly fallen away because of one defeat.

Evans said: "The more you stay unbeaten, the more people talk about records but now that has all gone it takes the spotlight off a bit and we can concentrate on the way we played in the opening weeks of the season.

"People will not expect us to travel well having lost at home and we can use the underdog tag to our advantage. …

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