THE much-maligned British & Irish Cup may be a large departure from Premiership action but, for Gloucester’s Lloyd Evans, his foray into the second-tier competition with Rotherham Titans certainly proved a worthwhile one.
Although the young fly-half is intent on making a success of life at Kingsholm he is still just that – young – and, so, opportunities there are not in abundance just yet.
Championship side Rotherham, however, are keen to make full use of his talents as was the case on Saturday when the 20-year-old contributed a personal haul of 24 points in their South Yorkshire derby success against a disappointing Doncaster Knights.
Evans, one of four Gloucester players brought in on dual-registration, showed great control to help steer his side to victory, kicking five penalties, scoring a fine individual try at the end and adding two conversions.
Given Rotherham had not won at home since the opening day of the season against London Welsh – they had won only one of their following five games anywhere – it was a much-needed victory to lift any tension that may have been building at Clifton Lane.
Evans, who has played once off the bench in the Premiership for Gloucester in each of the last two seasons and debuted for Rotherham at Bedford the week before, told The Yorkshire Post: “It was a massive defensive effort from the boys.
“That gave a nice platform for me and the backs and I reaped the rewards.
“I was happy to get a few points and it was my first try for Rotherham, too, at the end there which I enjoyed.
“But I have to emphasise what a great team performance it was.
“I felt our performances recently have been really good and we’ve just not quite got over the line but we fronted up against Doncaster and got there.”
Rotherham had most of the play in the first half, profiting with two well-worked tries for lock Toby Salmon and winger Jake Henry, but led only 18-10 after one of Doncaster’s own dual-registered players – Leicester Tigers centre George Catchpole – scored in the corner just seconds before the break.
Evans’s boot kept the home side in front in the second period although when former Rotherham centre Lloyd Hayes dummied his way over for Dougie Flockhart to make it 21-17 after 49 minutes, most people would have expected last season’s beaten Championship finalists to push on and recover a win.
However, Knights’ discipline was poor and, with their line-out having regularly malfunctioned – last season’s Championship Dream Team hooker Ben Hunter was guilty of a couple of overthrows – there was no comeback from Clive Griffiths’s side.
Although Evans missed a relatively simple penalty, he did slot one 12 minutes from time to stretch Rotherham further in front. When Hunter’s afternoon got worse, being yellow-carded for a professional foul in front of the posts, Evans slotted his fifth before dummying over for his try at the death, too.
He added: “I enjoyed playing in this derby. Obviously, back home, it’s all about Gloucester, Bristol and Bath.
“But we had quick chat about it before and the shed over there made a real nice atmosphere and it was great to play in and experience a northern one.
“It’s massively important for me personally to get some game time experience real tough league I’ll just keep learning as I come
“I’m not sure how often I’ll be here – I could be back and forth – but we’ll see and I’m enjoying it.”
Enjoyment was the last thing on Griffiths’s mind.
Like Rotherham counterpart Justin Burnell, he made significant changes for this game, including leaving out regular half-backs Declan Cusack and Michael Heaney.
But he was in no mood for excuses and admitted: “I’ve told them we have got to rediscover ourselves quickly as we’re in a bit of a dark place compared to where we were last year.
“It happens and you don’t have to be best coach in the world to see we have a bit of a hangover from last year; we’re up and down.
“There’s boys in the Dream Team last year who are nowhere near as good as they were.
“That, in essence, is what’s going wrong. We’ve been spanked today at crucial times with our decisions, by the officials and poor defence.
“But you can’t keep turning the ball over. That’s been our problem.
“Discipline, too. We were averaging up to seven penalties per game but all of a sudden we’ve become naughty boys and conceded double that.”
Rotherham Titans: Foley C; Foley B, Hudson, Barker, Henry; Evans, Walsh (Tressider 55); Williams T, Cole (Maddison 68), McNulty (Rees 45), Salmon (Tyas 45), Curry, Batley, Grange, Clarke. Unused: Bryant, Hutchinson, George.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis (White 40); Flockhart, Catchpole, Hayes, Bulumakau; Humberstone, Edgerley; Hislop (List 63), Hunter, Sproston (Quigley 40), Williams J, Nolan, Makaafi (Gray 68), Owen (Robinson 68), Shaw. Unused: Bergmanas, Cusack.
Referee: Jack Makepeace (RFU).