Rugby Union: Five Nations Focus: Evans ready for a fresh tour of duty: Robert Cole on the Llanelli loose-head prop who today wins his first Welsh cap

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The Independent Online
RICKY EVANS has never packed down in an international scrum, but when Joel Dume, the French referee, calls the Welsh and English packs together for the first time today it will feel like familiar territory for the Llanelli debutant.

Since the 31-year-old loose-head prop learned of his first selection for Wales 11 days ago he has focused on little else than what will be one of the biggest, and most forceful, moments of his life.

'The nerves have gone and now I'm just bubbling with excitement. I want to hit that first scrum and make a big impression,' Evans said. 'I've already done it a million times in my mind in the last week and I'm really looking forward to it. If you've got a tight scrum and the second row and flanker are doing their jobs, you can bang into that scrum with the impetus of 50 stones.'

Hoping to make it as unpleasant an experience as possible for the Aberporth-born, former Royal Engineer will be that most awkward of pack cornerstones, Jeff Probyn. While everything will be new to Evans, his tough-as-teak English opponent has done it all.

Mind you, it is nothing new for Evans to find himself thrown in at the deep end. In his third game for Llanelli, he found himself packing down against the legendary Graham Price. 'It was a question of out of the frying pan and into the fire, but I survived.' And after tours of duty in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Belize, Canada and Germany, he has worked as a fireman, the last three years in the civilian service as a member of Green Watch at Haverfordwest.

His anonymity at the highest level, despite playing in two Schweppes Cup finals, touring Canada with Wales B in 1989 and helping Llanelli beat the Australians in November, he believes could be a trump card. He has never played against Probyn, but has firm views on what to expect.

'I'm not going to get messed about. I'm going to concentrate on scrummaging and, if that goes well, then everything else will be a bonus,' Evans said. 'Scrummaging is something you've got to stick to. I never give up - I never have done and I never will do. It might take two or three scrums to find out how he binds, but I've got a few things up my sleeve. No, that's wrong, I'll have my sleeve cut off, but I've got a few tricks to play.

'All the press has been about Probyn, about how good he is and I love it that way. I can go on there unnoticed and unknown.' While he might think that to be the case, the English set-up is too professional these days to leave anything to chance in their pursuit of a record hat-trick of Grand Slams.

The coach, Dick Best, has done his homework on Evans and is impressed. Probyn, though, said: 'I know nothing about him other than that he's a strong lad. It makes my game harder to a certain extent because he'll know me from videos.'

Meanwhile, Evans said: 'I suppose the idea of playing for Wales first struck me when I was at primary school. I remember international days. The family and friends would huddle around the television, the kids banished to the back of the room. At half-time we'd all go outside to play and take it in turns to be Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams or Gerald Davies. I never dreamed I'd follow in their footsteps.

'My rugby in the forces wasn't all that serious. I enjoyed it, but never thought much about it. When I came out I joined Cardigan and played in the Pembrokeshire League. It was in one of those matches, against Narberth, that I was spotted and invited to train at Stradey Park.

'That was in 1986 and a few days later I played against Newport. Then I found myself packing down against Graham Price at Pontypool and I was in the Llanelli squad. That did my confidence a power of good and I began to take my game more and more seriously.' So seriously that, seven seasons on from that training session at Stradey, he has reached the top and is determined not to be a pushover for Probyn.

(Photograph omitted)