Former Ireland outside half Ronan O’Gara is getting his La Rochelle team to embrace the concept of Keep Ball Alive (KBA) as they bid for European glory but All Black Nick Evans prefers LQB as he steers Harlequins towards a Gallagher Premiership title challenge.
Former All Black Evans admires O’Gara’s KBA edict but sees the key to Harlequins success the delivery of Lightening Quick Ball (LQB) which he drums into the players as attack coach, a role that looks certain to take him to the top of the sport. Like O’Gara, Evans is already being tipped for an international coaching role and both men are helping give European rugby an exciting attacking edge supplemented by a clearly defined kicking strategy rather than the aimless kick-tennis that disfigures the game.
Since the departure of Paul Gustard as head of rugby in January the potency of the Quins attack has increased with a different emphasis. Gustard’s area of excellence was defence and it is clear the balance in the team’s play has moved to attack as Evans explained: “There has been a bit more freedom and that is related to the way we train now with a lot of gaining space drills and a lot around off loading to create LQB.
“With the players we have got, I don’t want to put them in a box and say “ in this position you do this”. We have a detailed framework how we want to manipulate teams but we want guys to make decisions on the pitch and create scenarios and to find different solutions. “
Evans dismisses the notion that LQB means running the ball at every opportunity and points to the Premiership statistics that show that while fourth placed Harlequins are top of the list with 491 points and second behind Exeter with 59 tries, with 2,000 passes they are nearly 600 behind Bristol.
Evans set out his attacking vision for RugbyPass with kicking a key component explaining: “I know that O’Gara has talked about KBA and we have a similar thing with Lightening Quins Ball and our kicking strategy is designed to create something which could force a turnover contest or kick for set piece so that we can attack their set piece. All our language around kicking is about attack and our players understand it is part of the game and when we don’t get LQB we have the ability to kick and create.
“If you look at the Premiership statistics we are top in the number of kicks per game. Everyone looks at us and talks about us throwing the ball around and attacking from anywhere but we average 28 kicks a game. Granted some of those are attacking kicks but we have a clear philosophy around our kicking and we are ranked sixth in terms of time in possession of the ball compared to Exeter or Bristol but when we do have the ball we are pretty lethal.”
Evans has a clarity of thought and good communications skills which underpinned his own playing career that brought 16 All Black caps and allowed him to finish his career with 1656 Premiership points putting him fourth in the all time list. England scrum half Danny Care has revelled in the attacking game plan Evans has created and sees his former half back partner going all the way as a coach.
Care said: “Nick wants to go to the very top. He’s willing to put in the work, willing to put in the learning, his aspirations are international rugby, I’m sure. Whether that’s back home in New Zealand or over here, I’m sure he’d snap the opportunity up wherever it came. I think he’s really happy as a coach at Quins now, the freedom that he’s given to make our attack tick, he’s loving that freedom.
“ He’s a brilliant rugby mind, he always was as a player, he’s the same as a coach. Some of the moves he comes up with are things that I don’t see when I analyse teams, but he sees it. I think he’s a great coach, he’s willing to work hard, hopefully he stays at Quins for a while, but the coaching world is his oyster.”
Evans is an ambitious coach and while Quins have his full attention, the chance to test himself at international level is a tantalising prospect He added: “It does to appeal to me and it would be silly if I didn’t admit to aspirations higher up the ladder. I am still learning and in the last 10 weeks I have had the most amount of autonomy I have had and feel real comfortable. I enjoy the challenge of putting my stamp on it and giving the players a voice is important and from Wilco Louw to Mike Brown everyone has their thoughts.
“Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming but I have clear ideas of how I see things from my experiences in New Zealand and here at Quins and it teaches you to be adaptable.”