Coaching has always been such a part of the DNA of Alec Evans that he could not give up the game even when told he had less than a year to live.
For him, the satisfaction of seeing players and teams develop has always been such an elixir that you’d prescribe it to a man like Evans for medicinal reasons.
Thankfully, Evans made that 1990 diagnosis redundant because today he can soak up worthy and universal acclaim as Rugby Australia’s newest Life Member.
Few in Australian rugby have contributed more as a player, coach and “keeper of the standards” over the six decades since he first played for Queensland in 1959.
You won’t find the name “Robert Alexander (Alec) Evans" in a Test match list of players or as a Wallaby coach.
He did tour New Zealand with the 1962 Wallabies but illness struck him down and he never played a game in his direct, confrontational style. He played on as forward leader for his state from backrow to prop.
He was a noted hardman. In 1965, he returned to the field for Queensland against the touring Springboks after a needle for a dislocated shoulder. He held the record for most games before his 62nd and final appearance in 1973.
In 1990, his health was compromised to a dangerous degree by hemochromatosis, a disorder where an iron overload in the body reaches harmful levels.
For the renowned forwards coach, this Life Member honour is perhaps the first time he has earned top billing above the coaches he served so loyally and with such expertise.
Evans, 82, holds the singular achievement of being an assistant coach to four Wallabies coaches (Alan Jones, Greg Smith, Rod Macqueen and John Connolly). A succession of Queensland coaches called on Evans too to sharpen the scrum so it operated like a well-grooved eight in rowing, another of Evans' great loves.
All have acknowledged Evans’ huge contribution and none more so than Jones.
Evans was Jones’s right-hand man on the famous 1984 Grand Slam tour and the Bledisloe Cup-winning tour of New Zealand in 1986. He was the unsung hero behind detailed training plans and the scrum power for the Wallabies’ famous pushover try against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1984. That is still the connoisseur’s high from Evans’ coaching resume.
“His coaching achievements are so outstanding it ought not be beyond the wit of decision-makers in Queensland to name an important part of their rugby infrastructure after this great Queenslander,” Jones said.
Beyond that, the Evans’ style, delivery and substance from schoolboy rugby to the Test arena has inspired a raft of quality Australian coaches.
David Nucifora, Cameron Lillicrap, Julian Gardner, Andrew Blades, Ross Reynolds, Michael Foley, Chris Latham, Roger Gould and others would all take it as the greatest compliment if an onlooker saw a hint of the Evans’ way in their coaching.
At different times, Evans has been tagged the “Grizzled of Oz”, “The Keeper of the Standards”, “The Scrum Doctor” and names not printable here. “Rugby Australia Life Member” has a special ring to it.
“It’s fantastic recognition and so deserved,” said Lillicrap, the former Wallaby prop-turned-Queensland scrum coach.
Lillicrap has known and revered Evans for more than 40 years. Perhaps, the relationship was only ever on shaky ground when he was a precocious 13-year-old at Brisbane Grammer getting his first taste of the taskmaster.
“It’s his eye on technique and persistence on achieving that which is very much at the heart of why Alec has always been such a great coach,” Lillicrap said.
“Alec has always coached the good. If he sees an excellent trait in a player, he’ll make it better as well as work on the extra parts. He’s a positive coach and a very good man.”
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Few have ever known Evans without his distinctive bald pate or the red tartan pom-pom hat that shielded it from the cold on the Grand Slam tour.
His players from Brisbane club Wests did try to do something about it on the tour to Toulouse in 1986 to play in the World Masters Club Championship.
On a sightseeing stop at Lourdes in south-west France, the squad visited the fabled waters of the grotto that are said to perform miracles.
There was laughter aplenty when several players splashed holy water on Evans’ head. Regrowth was one miracle too far.
The Alec Evans Medal is awarded annually to the Queensland Premier Rugby Player of the Year.
It honours both his long service as a player but also the club premierships he led as a coach in Queensland with Wests, Souths and the Gold Coast.
When he did have the chance to coach at Test level, it was with Wales to the 1995 Rugby World Cup after trophy success with the Cardiff club in Wales.
He was inducted into the Queensland Rugby Hall of Fame in 2015.