December 06 2009
David Evans played rugby. He had no choice; it was in his DNA. It had been played by every male member of his family since before his great-great-grandfather Dai discovered coal beneath his poor hill-farm in south Wales. Black diamonds soon replaced woolly ruminants as the Evans’ income; however, it did not stop them chasing the oval ball down the pitch.
On the other hand, the new money did help them move from a valley smallholding to a 2,000-acre farm in the less aggressively Celtic climes of Herefordshire. It enabled them to shoot and fish for much of the year and finance four generations of Evanses through private school – and the young David was the latest in line to go to the £28,000-a-year Kings’ School Cotswold on a Dai Evans rugby scholarship.
David was in Coln House, the “rugger-buggers’ house”, where he lived the life of a sporting zealot. It was impossible for him, as a boarder, not to eat, drink and breathe the game. And for the first three years of senior school it was his main focus, just as it was for his father, Hugh, who attended every home match.
On match days, Hugh would drive to the school in his pearl Range Rover Sport, park on the touchline and cheer on his son, along with a few boarders and a sprinkling of females (the school now accepted girls at sixth-form level), some of who were now part of a group of cheerleadering group known colloquially as The Kings’ Scrubbers.
But unbeknownst to Hugh, by the fourth year of David’s attendance his unwavering enthusiasm for all things rugby was no longer matched by his son’s. For as David metamorphosed from teen to monosyllabic young man he began to think the unthinkable – he would rather eat, drink and breathe burgers, beer and women. Rugby practice was now an excuse to slip out for a Marlboro Light and a can of Stella. Nowadays, he would much rather tackle a Scrubber than a scrum half.
But this was not something that David felt his family needed to know. In fact, he wrote regular e-mails home extolling the virtues of the physical game, boasting of his fitness and his joy at scoring for the First XV. And then one day, after one too many night-time beers behind the old Fives’ Courts, he overegged his bogus enthusiasm by inviting his father to attend the inter-house game in November – a suggestion that completely disappeared from his head the next morning.
The Saturday of the game arrived and David was nonplussed. He had reached the stage in his pubescent life when not only did he not care whether Coln beat Windrush (the other great Kings’ rugby house), or whether he played well or badly, but whether or not the precocious Georgia Tiffin would be watching. Georgia had text-messaged him earlier saying that she would see him behind the Fives Courts at four that afternoon, which prompted David to bunk off English and sneak into Cheltenham to buy “the necessary” to enjoy the meeting.
It was a needle match between the two houses and the school had turned out in force. David had forgotten about his father, who was stuck in a jam on the A40, and furthermore did not consider him when he was hit by a Windrush prop and had to be stretchered off the field with blood pouring from his mouth.
Five minutes later David’s father arrived. He asked the whereabouts of his son and was told to try “the San” (sanatorium), but there was no sign of the young buck there and Matron said there hadn’t been any casualties so far that afternoon.
But as Hugh cut across to the pitch via the Fives Courts, a shortcut he remembered from his own schooldays, he heard squealing and grunting and saw his son coupling with the buxom Kings’ Scrubber Georgia.
“What on earth is going on? I thought you were injured…” said a shocked Hugh. “I was told you were bleeding heavily.” And David looked more than a little sheepish.
In a perfect re-enactment of Harlequins’ wing Tom Williams’ fake injury during the Heineken Cup quarterfinals, he had bought a joke blood capsule earlier in the day and had bitten on it as the clock struck 4pm. His DNA, it is fair to say, was no longer in rugby but firmly elsewhere.