Wales' Ian Evans defies the odds to show why he's a cut above all the rest
NEVER mind Zebo's flick or O'Driscoll's break — Wales had their own logic-defying champion in the Six Nations opener in Cardiff.
Simon Zebo's extraordinary use of a heel to control a pass that had drifted behind him was something that will be talked about for years, as will Brian O'Driscoll's knifing run through the home defence which defeated three Welsh players.
But Ian Evans also raised multiple eyebrows at the Millennium Stadium.
He didn't do anything flashy to rival the feats of the Irish backs.
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But anyone who has ever played top-level sport will be in awe of how he managed to last 74 minutes of a Test after being sidelined for the previous 11 weeks.
Those who have operated in the rarified environment of elite sport will testify that the body has to adapt following significant time out with an injury. It has to reacquaint itself with the astonishing physical demands the job requires.
As Owen Sheers puts it in his book Calon: "In the course of a single game (international rugby players) will be expected to run like sprinters, lift like weightlifters, kick with the skill of footballers and endure hits like Ultimate Fighters.
"They have to be…Land Rovers as well as Ferraris."
In an ideal world Evans would have been eased back against Ireland, given 20 minutes at the end to work his way back up to speed.
Instead, with Wales hammered by injuries in the second row, he had to take the field in the starting line-up and keep going for as long as he could.
How big is the difference between a short burst of Test rugby and virtually a whole game? As someone said of the contrast between the mile and the marathon, it is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.
But Evans endured all the jumping, pushing, tackling and charging. He endured being at the centre of mauls with four of five Irish forwards trying to choke him. He kept putting his hand up for work.
It was an effort that spoke volumes for not just his physical conditioning but also his mental strength.
"The first thing to say is it was disappointing we lost the game," said Evans, who lines up against France in Paris today (5 GMT).
"But I was pleased that I managed to last as long as I did.
"I had tried to keep myself in the best possible condition and, working with the Ospreys and Wales physios, I felt good in the week leading up to the game.
"I was tired, but that's what Test rugby is all about.
"When you have the crowd behind you, adrenalin takes over. It gives you that bit extra to get you through.
"I surprised myself in a way but I had been working towards it, trying to keep myself in peak condition."
Evans had gone into the Ireland match with a perfect Six Nations record with Wales: played nine, won the lot.
But his run ended with the 30-22 defeat by O'Driscoll and Co.
"It was a shame to see it go," said Evans, "but that's sport and I don't suppose anything lasts forever.
"The key thing is that we perform well this weekend.
"We know it is going to be tough. We have to win the battle up front. France have a big front five and they will be looking to deliver at scrums, line-outs and with their driving play.
"It will be a physical battle and we have to stop them getting on the front foot, otherwise their crowd will get behind them and the shouts of 'Allez Les Bleus' will become louder.
"We need to stop their forwards at source, at scrums and line-outs, otherwise it could be a long day at the office."
Wales have reinforced their pack with three of Evans's team-mates from the Ospreys — Ryan Jones, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric.
All will have key roles.
Wales will look to Jones for leadership, Tipuric to match home talisman Thierry Dusautoir at the breakdown and Hibbard to hit his targets at the line-out, provide ball-carrying support for Toby Faletau and break up home attacks with his tackling.
"They won't let anyone down," said Evans.
"Ryan has huge experience and has pretty much seen it all, while Hibbs has probably been the form hooker in Wales and deserves his chance. The pressure is on him now because he has previously put it on the other hookers in this squad.
"I think, knowing Richard, he is going to deliver and come up trumps, being more than capable in the job.
"Tips? A great footballer, a great rugby player. He has unbelievable skill and talent and can read a game like Martyn Williams.
"He adds that link between forwards and backs to keep the ball flowing."