By Simon Thomas
It’s been a very eventful year in the life of Cai Evans as his rugby dreams have come true.
The young utility back was a bolter selection in Wales’ World Cup training squad and then went on to make a surprise start against South Africa in August, winning his first cap, figuring once more versus the Barbarians earlier this month.
He’s also with a new team, having joined Dragons RFC from the Ospreys, who he will now reacquaint himself with this weekend as he goes up against his former team in a BKT United Rugby Championship Welsh derby at Rodney Parade.
— Dragons RFC (@dragonsrugby) August 17, 2023
So, much to reflect on, starting with the international turn his career has taken.
“It was a dream come true and the best thing that could have happened to me,” says the 24-year-old.
“I went from coming back from an operation at the end of January to being involved with Wales just a few months later.”
Linking up with the national set-up meant taking part in the gruelling summer training camps in Switzerland and Turkey.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in my life,” he admits.
“You can’t put into words just how hard it was. When you are in it, you have just got to stay in it. Everyone is in the same position.
“There was a real onus on us to look after ourselves and put in the work. Preparation is everything from the management’s point of view. If you don’t train well, you don’t get the opportunity to wear the jersey, it’s as simple as that.
“You have got to be on it every day. You have got to look after your body to be in a position where you can train day-in, day-out,
“Then it’s about being able to recover from that and go again. It’s about taking opportunities and backing your skill set.
“Being in that environment gave me a lot of confidence, knowing I’d been picked for a reason and that I had to back myself.”
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) July 10, 2023
Initially named as a replacement for the final warm-up game against the Springboks, Evans then found himself starting at full-back after Liam Williams pulled out through injury.
That saw him following in the back three footsteps of his father Ieuan, who won 72 caps on the wing for Wales, 28 of them as captain, and who has recently served as WRU chairman.
“As the game got closer and closer, you certainly have that added element of nerves, for sure,” says Cai.
“I had gone and warmed up as a travelling reserve for the first two matches against England and that helped me settle a bit and take in the atmosphere.
“But being able to run out in the team, it meant the world to me.
“In terms of the way South Africa set up, I don’t think I could have had a more difficult first cap. They are absolute behemoths of men! But I was just elated to be on the pitch.
“Playing for Wales, it’s a very exclusive club, a very special club. It was a dream come true to have that opportunity at the end of that four months. On the whole, I was pleased with how it went personally.”
Cai Evans will start for Wales at full back against @Springboks on Saturday, 36 years after his father Ieuan made his debut against France. Liam Williams not being risked over hamstring concerns. Dan Biggar also out, replaced by Sam Costello.
— Peter Jackson (@JackoRugby) August 17, 2023
There was however the disappointment of defeat and then missing out on the final 33-man World Cup squad.
“It was bitter sweet with the result and the unfortunate news that came the following Monday,” he said.
“But being involved in the squad and having the opportunity to put on the jersey set me in the right direction and I learned a lot from it.”
Evans was back in the famous red jersey a couple of weeks ago against the Barbarians, coming on as a replacement fly-half before showing his versatility by moving to full-back, the position he occupies for the Dragons.
“Primarily, I like to see myself at full-back moving forward, but with the nature of the game I need to have the ability to be versatile and I like playing both positions,” he said.
🚨𝙏𝙀𝘼𝙈 | Here are your Dragons to take on @ospreys in a huge 🏴 derby at Rodney Parade tomorrow afternoon, 5:15pm KO! 💪⤵️
— Dragons RFC (@dragonsrugby) November 17, 2023
On his international ambitions moving forward, he says: “I have had a taste of it now with Wales and I want more of it.
“I need to kick on now by representing my new club to the best of my ability and keep putting in performances.”
As for how he has settled in at the Dragons, he says: “From members of staff to players, they have made me feel so welcome. It’s a very accommodating club. They care a lot about each other.”
Turning to Saturday’s BKT URC game against his former team, he adds: “I have fond memories of my time with the Ospreys and it will be great to see a lot of familiar faces.”
𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗠 𝗔𝗡𝗡𝗢𝗨𝗡𝗖𝗘𝗠𝗘𝗡𝗧 📢
— Ospreys (@ospreys) November 17, 2023