Tomorrow represents the start of Bath Rugby's 150th anniversary celebrations, with people flocking to the Rec for our free Family Festival of Rugby. Ahead of the event, we spoke to one of the many players who will be getting involved in the rugby fun!
Jonathan Evans, Bath Rugby's new recruit at scrum-half, is still taking in his new surroundings.
"It's a big change from what I'm used to," admits the 23-year-old from the Rhymney Valley, who spent five years across the Severn with Newport Gwent Dragons. "The great facilities and the amount of support you have as a player, in terms of backroom staff, physios, conditioners. I'm not used to that amount of numbers and resources."
Interconnected though top rugby rugby clubs across England and Wales may be, former Wales U20 international Evans knew none of his new teammates upon reporting for duty at Farleigh House for the first time. "It was a big introduction on the first day," he says, "but it was nice being brought in a bit early with a smaller group, with so many of the other players having an extra two weeks off. I was slowly being introduced to everyone, and when the internationals come back it's yet another introduction. It's a good way to get to know the large number of people here at the Club."
Evans did have one key contact at Bath, however, in the form of First Team Coach Darren Edwards. "It's been good to have a contact here in Darren. I'd spoken to him a few times in the process of coming across to Bath, to make sure I was making the right decision," says Evans of the man who oversaw his development at Dragons and Wales U20. "He reassured me that I was making the right decision for myself, and thinks it will be good for me. But it's the way the Club operates and wants to develop world-class players that sold it to me."
'Ambition' is a key word for the scrum-half ("I wouldn't be here if I wasn't ambitious"), and one that is repeated by coach Edwards: "Jonathan responds to challenges, and he knows that he's entered a challenging environment here at Bath. He'll thrive here. I know what a competitor he is: he has ambition and wants to win trophies."
Lewis School, which Evans attended in Caerphilly, has a colourful roster of notable former pupils – including political heavyweight Neil Kinnock – but one of the most famous in rugby terms is undeniably John Dawes, who in 1971 captained the only British and Irish Lions side to win a series in New Zealand.
Despite coming from a rugby hotbed – Caerphilly's Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal being an exception – Evans was initially a footballer, and didn't play the 15-man game until he was 13. "I started playing for Bargoed, my local team," he recalls. "It was at a fairly late age, with most kids starting at six or seven. I played through the age groups at Bargoed, then got into Newport Gwent Dragons age grade system."
About two years after picking up a rugby ball in earnest for the first time, Evans was called into the Dragons Academy. Whilst developing into an impressive young player with the U18s, he received a surprise call-up to the first team against no less an opposition than Ospreys, traditionally the strongest of the four Welsh regions.
"Being 17, it made me the youngest player to ever play for the region at the time, so it was a nice achievement," says Evans. "From there, I played for the Dragons for five years. I think I made around 87 appearances before arriving here. It's been a big culture change. There's a different approach to rugby here, with lots of concentration on details and repetition."
"We break down moves and repeat them about a thousand times so you can do them right the one time in a game. A lot of different inputs and opinions, which is good, but the coaches also strive for the players to give their opinions. We get a lot of feedback and we use iPads so we can go back home, relax, then review our session. They trust us to be responsible to do our own review work out of hours, which players appreciate."
Evans is chomping at the bit to run out at the Recreation Ground. Bath's first two matches are, of course, back-to-back fixtures against West Country opponents Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester. "I've heard about the West Country derbies. I think they'll be a different atmosphere to the derbies that I'm familiar with, where there's lots of terracing and the supporters feel like they're right on top of the pitch."
"The Welsh derbies can get quite rowdy, especially Dragons v Blues, and they're the ones you want to play. I was lucky to win my last derby against Blues at Rodney Parade. That was one of the best games I enjoyed last season. We also did the double over Leinster and beat Ulster at home. We broke all the Dragons' records last year, but our biggest problem was consistency and not having a big enough squad to consistently compete."
He will get his first taste of the Rec before the West Country Challenge Cup, though, since Evans will be involved in tomorrow's activities for the 150th Family Festival of Rugby.
Evans says: "I was quick to recognise how important this year is for Bath Rugby. It's a huge year to be part of the Club, and I feel pretty lucky to have joined at such a time. There are a lot of events happening, which just underlines that ambition that Bath has. It will be great to feel the vibe at the Rec tomorrow. I look forward to meeting all these new faces and to give people the chance to meet me."
Bath Rugby will have a whole day of fun family activities in store for you from 9.30am tomorrow, and entry is free all day.