Non Evans: The best feeling in the world

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 2 February 2010
By Non Evans
 
 Non Evans: The best feeling in the world
Non Evans (#15) is congratulated by teammates after kicking Wales to a first ever victory over England in last year's Six Nations

Non Evans is guaranteed her place in Welsh women's rugby folklore, the full back having held her nerve to kick an injury-time penalty to seal a first ever win over England in last year's Women's Six Nations.

In the second of our columns counting down to Women's Rugby World Cup 2010, she looks back on that Valentine's Day 16-15 win in Cardiff and ahead to this year's Six Nations which kicks off at the weekend.

READ AUSTRALIA CAPTAIN CHERYL SOON'S OPENING COLUMN >>

I have played for Wales since the 1996/97 season and I got asked recently what the highlight of my rugby career would be and it has absolutely got to be beating England in the Six Nations last year. It would have been very difficult to end my career never having beaten England, so it is a day I will remember forever.

It came down to the last kick and it was just so brilliant as the match went one way and then the other and it was nail-biting to the last minute. Just before the 80 minutes were up Katy McLean knocked over a penalty to put England ahead and I thought 'oh no, here we go again'.

But we managed to work the ball into their half and got a penalty. I had missed a few kicks during the game and the captain went to ask me if I wanted it, but the referee said you either kick for posts or you run it, there is no time left as it was injury time.

So if the kick went over we won, if it didn't we lost, so no pressure there! Thankfully it went over and it was just the best feeling in the whole world. I don't know if I will ever experience it again, but it is one I will certainly never forget.

It took us 22 years to defeat England, so you can understand the significance of the win against a side who had beaten us 55-0 the year before. What made the difference in 2009? Well, I think it was because we didn't have any injuries and were able to field our strongest possible side.

I think we do struggle in Wales with strength in depth. If we lose key players and have inexperience in the squad we find it difficult. We didn't have that last year. We also had a really good win against Scotland, so our confidence was high going into the home game with England.

Tough start to campaign

There was a really good feeling in the squad. I can't explain it but we were confident and everyone played really well and pulled together. On that day everything just clicked. I know it came down to the last kick, but we had to be that close to get that match-winning opportunity.

Maybe that was the difference - we had all our experienced players to blend with a few younger players. Unfortunately, we have four senior players injured at the moment, although hopefully one of these will be back to face England.

That means there will probably be a few new caps and a few girls only winning their second caps after the Sweden game last November. That is great looking forward to the World Cup, but going into the first game of the Six Nations against England with a few inexperienced girls is going to be tough.

That said we're obviously very excited and looking forward to the Six Nations. England is tough to start with, especially away from home, but we have had some really good training sessions. It's a shame the snow last month meant our game against the Nomads - the equivalent of the Barbarians - was called off.

We would love to have had a warm up game before we face England, but saying that it is the same for them because they haven't played since November. Their last game though was against New Zealand, while we played Sweden which is slightly different, but saying that we played very well and put 50 points on a side also going to the World Cup.

England are one of the best teams in the world and will be very, very confident this year because they are just coming off the back of beating New Zealand for only second time I think. I watched that match live on Sky and it was a really good game, I think a lot of people were impressed by the standard.

Long or short term gain?

They have more strength in depth than Wales, Scotland and Ireland and have a wider player base. On paper we probably shouldn't be beating them, but we did in Cardiff. We have never beaten them away from home before and we know they'll be keen to avenge that first loss to Wales when we meet on Saturday evening.

We have three home games and the target has to be to win all of them. We have Scotland first and they've had a difficult few years building after a lot of players retired following the last World Cup but they have improved year on year. Then it's France, who beat us last year. France don't always travel well and you don't know which French team will show up, although they do seem to be peaking ready for the World Cup and they are one side we are targeting to beat.

Last season has been described as our best ever finish, which is probably because we beat England, but we have actually been second, third, second and second in the last four years. The target has got be top two again, to equal what we did last year, and give us confidence building to the World Cup.

It is a slightly different season with the World Cup. Last year it was all about winning the Six Nations, now the coaches are talking about building to the World Cup and getting our plays and our structure right to take on the best in the world. The coaches have a more long-term target, but personally I want to win every match.

It might be my last Six Nations and I want to finish at least second as we did last year and the year before, but I know you also have got to think long-term as a team, blooding youngsters with a few coming up from the Under 20 squad. It does take a while for players to gel, especially with new players coming in.

I think it is really important to have a good Six Nations because winning builds confidence within the squad. It is important to do well, but it isn't a travesty if we don't do well because we have the chance to put it right for the World Cup.

Next week we hear from Julianne Zussman, who was involved in the first internationals of Women's Rugby World Cup year in January as Canada shared a two-test series with the USA. The Canada wing reveals how their time in Florida has resulted in a shift in team focus.