Former Wymondham RFC junior Will Evans savouring surprise rise to prominence at Leicester Tigers
- Credit: Tigers Images
The latest Norfolk rugby prospect to roll off the Leicester Tigers production line has written his name into the history books at Welford Road.
Former Wymondham RFC junior Will Evans has become the second-youngest forward to ever start a Premiership match for Leicester, at the age of 19 years and 64 days.
The Norwich-born teen started against Gloucester at Welford Road on Saturday after late fitness problems for Australian flanker Lachlan McCaffrey, coming in to play alongside England internationals Tom Croft and Ed Slater in the back row.
Evans completed 50 minutes before he was replaced, winning a turnover which led to Manu Tuilagi winning a penalty which was kicked by Owen Williams to bring Leicester to 27-23 behind their visitors.
The hosts had trailed 27-13 at half-time after conceding 24 unanswered points but went on to win a dramatic encounter 35-30, with Niki Goneva scoring a late try to win the game and keep Leicester in the top four.
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It was certainly a lively debut for the former Wymondham College pupil, who grew up in Woodton, near Bungay, walking off to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
'I'd only played in front of two or three thousand before so it was something very different. The noise when we walked out was something I'll never forget, with 23,000 people – it was a hell of a lot of noise,' Evans said.
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'I didn't really think about it during the game, maybe you notice it suddenly for a second, but I could really hear it at half-time, my ears were really ringing then.'
The Norfolk youngster has previously played on loan for South Leicester in National League Two and has been playing for Ampthill this season, who are chasing promotion from National League One, in the third tier of English rugby.
He has also remained a regular in the A League for Leicester's development squad, completing the full 80 minutes of the final fixture of the season against Worcester just five days before his first-team bow.
'It was a massive surprise, an hour before kick-off so it didn't give me much time to think about it, which was probably good because I didn't have a chance to sit there tearing my hair out,' Evans continued.
'It all happened so quickly that it was probably advantageous for me. It was kind of surreal really.
'As soon as the whistle blew I just switched mindset and I thought I did alright. As soon as the whistle blew I was just in the frame of mind to play. I've played quite a few A League games so I just tried to use that experience.'
Evans is likely to return to action with Ampthill this weekend as he is not registered in Leicester's European Champions Cup squad ahead of Sunday's home quarter-final clash with Stade Francais.
'I would imagine I'll be going back to Ampthill, it was only one game, it's not like I'm a world beater all of a sudden,' Evans continued.
'I still need to play games but I would like to think Cockers (director of rugby Richard Cockerill) knows he can trust me now if he needs me.
'So I'll go back to Ampthill, learn a few more tricks and hopefully kick on from there.'
Evans, who cites Australia star Michael Hooper as one of his idols, has represented England up to under-18 level and is hopeful he can now force his way into U20 contention.
For now, though, he is just savouring the beginning of his journey.
Success of Norfolk production line is continuing for Leicester
Will Evans joins a host of players with Norfolk roots at Leicester Tigers – including England internationals Ben and Tom Youngs.
The Aviva Premiership club's developing player programme (DPP) base in Norfolk is now well established, with former North Walsham head coach john Curry integral in its establishment in the past.
Now based at Easton College and with Langley School's director of sport Tim Malone as its head coach, the DPP continues to bring the county's top talent to Leicester's attention.
Another former Walsham youngster, centre George Catchpole, has followed in the Youngs' footsteps in playing for Tigers in recent seasons.
England U20s flanker and former Diss junior Will Owen, former Wymondham College pupil George Worth, Langley School student Harry Mahoney and former Gresham's School pupil Harry Simmons are all among the players with Norfolk links who are in Leicester's academy system.
Evans said the Youngs brothers have helped him to settle into training with the first team at Leicester.
'They've done a lot of looking after me,' he joked. 'I didn't know them very well at first but they soon said 'you're from Norfolk aren't you?' and then straight away you've got that bond.
'It's a huge memory for me from when I was in the academy that we used to go home on a Friday night and there would be cars full of us all going back to Norfolk.
'There's not much to look at on those long journeys so you really get to know each other well.'
Evans came through the ranks at Wymondham before leaving to join Leicester's academy three years ago.
Wymondham director of rugby, David Brunton, said: 'Our club is all about nurturing talent from a young age and it's brilliant to see talented players like Will achieve their dreams. And it's fascinating to look at the photo of the under-sevens team from 2002 and see how many are still playing – Scott Lyle with Bedford Blues and Bury St Edmunds, Oliver Coleman and Ben Pape were in the front row for Wymondham firsts on Saturday in our win over Ipswich YMs, and several others are still playing for our club and others. Wymondham grows great young players!'