AFTER quitting the classroom to head to Rodney Parade, New-port Gwent Dragons prop Owen Evans is having to do plenty of learning on the job.
The 23-year-old loosehead penned his first professional contract in September and just five weeks later was making his first regional start and going head-to-head with a former All Black.
Bayonne’s tighthead was Neemia Tialata – a 30-year-old boasting 43 New Zealand caps and a wealth of experience from countless scrums in Super Rugby with the Hurri-canes and in the brutal environment of France’s Top 14.
The Dragons’ loosehead was Evans – a 23-year-old who last month had to tell the headmaster of St John Lloyd Catholic Comprehensive in Llanelli that he would be quitting his role as a teaching assistant to become a full-time rugby player.
It looked a mismatch on paper but the man with the L plates enjoyed a terrific evening at the set piece, as well as putting in a pretty impressive display in the loose.
“The last few weeks has been a big eye-opener but I am enjoying every minute,” said Evans, son of former Wales prop Ricky.
“It was all so sudden. One minute I was coming out of pre-season with the Scarlets and getting back into it with Llandovery and the next I had a phone call from the Dragons.
“They said that they had been watching me and the next Monday I signed – it was the happiest week of my life.
“I had a word with Paul White, the headmaster at the school, and he was brilliant about it, everyone there was.
“Then it was straight into training and because others have been unfortunate with injury I have been thrown in.”
Evans’ Dragons debut was hardly a walk in the park. The former Cardigan, Llandovery and Wales Under-20s front rower came off the bench after just nine minutes to lock horns with Wasps’ Italian international Fabio Staibano.
He did well, scored a close range try, earned his start against Bayonne and could potentially make it a hat-trick of appearances to line up against another former All Black on Friday in the shape of Ulster’s John Afoa.
“I have given it my all, that’s all I can do,” said Evans modestly, belying a man who has even surprised his coaches with the way that he has settled into life at the Dragons.
“I’ve tried to just get on with things – you can psyche yourself out of it if you overcomplicate things.
“I tried not to think too much about the fact I was going up against Tialata and the experience that he has. I knew what I needed to do and just wanted to get on the field and get on with it. He was a big unit but I was happy with my performance.
“I just want to keep getting better and hopefully the competition for the start will help me do that. I’d like to be a good scrummager and a bit like a flanker around the park. I want to have a high work rate but first and foremost be solid in the set piece.”
And the early signs are promising. His unexpected rise may mean that he doesn't yet have a profile page on the Dragons’ website but the ex-classroom assistant’s report card makes pleasant reading so far.