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Wales wing Steff Evans relishing Scarlets’ red-letter day against La Rochelle

The Welsh region will play their first top-flight European knockout game for over a decade.

Wales wing Steff Evans says the Scarlets are “fizzing to get out there” and contest Friday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final against La Rochelle.

It is the west Walians’ first top-flight European knockout game since 2007, when they were beaten by semi-final opponents Leicester.

Evans was a 12-year-old schoolboy at Ysgol y Strade secondary in Llanelli when a Scarlets team containing players like Simon Easterby, Dafydd James, Regan King and Matthew Rees lost 33-17 to the Tigers.

It was the third time during an eight-season spell that the Scarlets had suffered European semi-final agony, but also the last occasion for them to emerge from a qualifying group.

A capacity crowd of more than 15,000 will pack out Parc y Scarlets, and for Evans it represents another red-letter day in a rugby career that has taken off in the last 12 months.

He made a try-scoring contribution when the Scarlets mauled Munster in last season’s PRO12 final, was handed his international debut less than a month later and has started nine of Wales’ last 11 Tests, which included him collecting five touchdowns.

“It has been a bit of a whirlwind 12 months,” Evans told Press Association Sport. “Looking back 12 months ago, I didn’t expect to be where I am today.

“After getting to the final last year, I have just been building from there. Getting nine caps for Wales is a dream when you are playing rugby, and hopefully there is more to come.”

The Scarlets’ acclaimed all-court game is a natural fit for Evans’ pace and elusive running, with 23 tries during the last two seasons for his region being testament to that.

“Where we are at the moment, it has been building up for the last year and a half, and the boys are fizzing to get out there,” he added.

“The PRO12 play-off and final last season brought us all together as a team, brought us tighter, and the boys that have come in this season have made it even stronger.

“For us to reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals and get a home tie means a lot to the area. Rugby is big in Llanelli, and everyone is behind us.

“Everyone around here is talking about the game, and you see things like extra seating going in, marquees going up around the ground.

“It is going to be a huge occasion, and we thrive on that. As a rugby player, you want to play against the best teams and the best players.”

The Scarlets coaching team – headed by New Zealander Wayne Pivac and former Scarlets and Wales fly-half Stephen Jones – continue to receive rave reviews, with some pundits backing them as potential Wales successors to Warren Gatland when he steps down after next year’s World Cup.

“Our attack has been outstanding this season, and Steve is the source of that,” Evans said. “He doesn’t shy away from the fact we try to play a lot, and he has got our forwards being ball players, as well as the backs.

“Wayne marshals everything. He is a great man-to-man coach, and what he has done in the past few years is outstanding. He wanted to change the way that we play a few years back, and he gives us the freedom to play when it is on.

“You have got to be wary of La Rochelle. They bring a big danger, and we will be wary of that. If the rain holds off, it’s going to be a quick game of rugby, which is what everyone enjoys.”

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