Record appearance holder Lewis Evans chalked up a memorable milestone on this day (March 24) in 2017 when he made his 200th appearance for Dragons.
Evans was given a thunderous ovation when he led the team out to face Ulster Rugby at Rodney Parade on that Friday evening three years ago today.
To celebrate that milestone, we look back at a part of an interview we did with Evans for ‘Fired Up’ magazine earlier this season when he discussed his time at Dragons and what the region meant to him…
Q. It all started back in September 2006 with a fixture against Scarlets. What are your memories of that time?
A. I was part of a big group of Academy boys, with the likes of Ashley Smith and Gareth Maule, who came through at that time and were used as cannon fodder! It was a great year, though, and we had the likes of Michael Owen, Colin Charvis and Jamie Ringer, all these big respected names to look up to. You learned the ropes quickly, in terms of how to be a professional at that age. I look back at the squad photo from that year and I’ve been on every single one since.
Q. How have you changed as a player since 2006?
A. I used to be the youngest – now, besides Mr. Hibbard, I’m the oldest! I think I understand what the word ‘experience’ means now. I used to look at Colin Charvis and his game and wonder why he would do certain things. That is what experience is. You’ve been there; you’ve done it and you learn from mistakes. Even though I’m not the perfect player now, I certainly don’t do some things that I did in the past that were naïve, or maybe too honest. I can read the game better now and off the field I like to try and manage other players around me.
Q. You were a captain at a young age. What are your memories of that appointment?
A. I was captain at 24, but the average age of that team was something like 20 or 21-years-old. I was almost the best of a bad bunch, if I’m brutally honest, after we lost a number of senior players. We had seen senior pros like Luke Charteris leave, who is almost impossible to replace. I’ve realised since then there are certain things that you do and say, off the field, that have just as much impact as what you do on the field.
Q. How proud are you of the number of games you have played – and is 250 a target?
A. I am proud of it. Would I have thought I’d reach that many 14 years ago, probably not! I’ve had my fair share of injuries, as we all do, but if I can get to that 250 mark, I’d be very proud of myself for that. For the next year and a half, my main aim is to get the Dragons to where I feel they should be. The things Dean (Ryan) is putting in place is really good - on and off the field. It’s not just accountability, there are processes and mindsets that are being challenged and maybe that has been the biggest issue for us over the years. Look at the squads we’ve had with individuals we have had - we should have been punching far above our weight. We are identifying where we have broken down. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we are challenging everything head-on, rather than brushing it under the carpet. We’re being honest and once we are comfortable with higher standards it will transcend onto the pitch.
Q. Looking back at the last decade, what highlights stand out?
A. A lot merge into one, even when I try to reminisce with old boys like (Jason) Tovey, Ashley Smith or Adam Hughes. There was a Perpignan game a few years back that got me into the Wales squad. Gloucester away in Europe also stands out because it was a fantastic fixture to be a part of. Judgement Day last season was big too. To finally get that win, in the manner we did, was massive for us as a team. There have been lots of highs and lows, but I think more highs to come.
Q. Who would you say were the best players you lined up alongside?
A. That is a difficult question. I look at the back row and I’m too scared to name one or two! As a young back row, coming through alongside the likes of Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau was a pleasure to be a part of. One of the better ones was actually Joe Bearman. We signed him from Cornish Pirates and he was a bit of a nobody, but he turned up like an Adonis and for those first two years he was our best player by far.
Q. Any regrets that Wales have never really come calling?
A. Three times the bridesmaid and never the bride! I was disappointed when I was younger with the way things went, but the four people in my position – Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau and Justin Tipuric - were the best in the country. They were head and shoulders above the rest - my timing couldn’t have been much worse! I used to play alongside Toby and he was just a magician. Dan is world class at what he does and Tipuric was brilliant at the World Cup in Japan. At the time, I’d have liked to have been in the mix more, but I’m a realist and perhaps I was a jack of all trades and master of none. I look at Josh Navidi, who I played alongside in the possible versus probables match, and he has kicked on and had his chance. My only regret was I never really had the opportunity. But I’ve enjoyed my time at the Dragons and I my focus is here.
Q. Finally, after 14 seasons, what makes Dragons so special to you?
A. Every time I’ve come to re-sign there has always been a new vision, a new cohort of players coming through. There were opportunities a few years ago when I could have gone, but I’m a home boy, I make no excuses for that, and I still love playing for my home region. I genuinely believe we could have, and should have, done better over the years, but I‘ve no major regrets. I’ve captained the team and certainly wish some results had gone differently. We would look at the Dragons very differently then, but that is sport. There is a lot more left in the tank for me, I have this year and next, and I’ll do anything to bring success here. That has always been the motivation.
I’m a home boy, I make no excuses for that, and I still love playing for my home region...