Steve Harper meets Evan Almighty

1st May 2018

Evan Olmstead is the 27-year-old rugby union  ‘lock and loose forward’ who plays for the Newcastle Falcons and the Canadian National team moved to Sydney, Australia, with his family when he was three years old, before returning to his native Canada in 2011 competing for the IRB World Junior Trophy. He made his debut for Canada’s senior team in 2015 and was part of the Canadian squad at the Rugby World Cup in 2015. Evan, a fully qualified accountant, signed for Newcastle Falcons in July 2016. Ex Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper caught up with him towards the end of a successful season

Tell us about your journey to end up here at the Falcons?

I went from Canada to Australia, back to Canada for a little while and then here to the North East of England. I spent the bulk of my childhood in Australia and like so many others had aspirations to play for the Wallabies. As an adult, I had to decide whether to wait and prolong my accounting career or move to Canada, a country I loved and where I’d played under-20 rugby. I chose the latter and tried to model my career on Jamie Cudmore. He’d gone to Europe and played in a lower division team but tried to work his way up to having a big career as a Canadian second-row, which is the same position as me. I went that route and got to the World Cup then to London Scottish and up here after that.

Just how was the World Cup experience?

It was fantastic and almost out of this world for me as a supporter. I hadn’t really played in too many big games before that as my biggest game was in front of a maximum of about 20,000 people. To go to a tournament like that where the eyes of the world are focussed on one thing was amazing. As soon as we landed at Heathrow we were taken down a special stairway onto a fully World Cup logoed bus and into the Royal Terminal where the Queen goes through; it was the cool little things like that you don’t forget.

I read in another interview that some of your pals at London Scottish weren’t very complimentary about Newcastle as a city?

I love Newcastle and I knew from the minute I got here that this was a class place. My pals had told me it was very industrial, very run down and was basically just one big coal mine but I came with an open mind. One of my pals from Australia who was living in London came up with me the first weekend and we just walked around the city on a Friday night until after 10pm. There was madness going off everywhere but the city centre looked beautiful in the sun and the old buildings were really impressive.

You have a very distinct appearance so you must get a lot of attention  walking around town?

Football is very much the number one sport here so we do fly under the radar a little but with our improvements recently, we are starting to see more and more Falcons shirts. Occasionally someone will come over and ask for a picture or an autograph and, of course, the big game at St James’ Park helped too. It was fantastic and had a real World Cup vibe to it with the crowds and the fireworks.

It’s been quite a rapid rise for you as just a few years ago you were still working as an accountant, is the plan just to enjoy every minute?

I’ve had two good years at Newcastle, although this season has been a bit up and down. I started off injured but it’s all come good and I’ve had a few good games. The plan is definitely to kick on as I’ve got World Cup qualification with Canada coming along in November. The alternative is that I return to accounting and be stuck at a desk all day, everyday.

You talk  passionately  about Canada. Where does rugby union sit in the sporting pecking order there and is this changing?

Its popularity is growing but not rapidly, although there are guys doing some great stuff at grassroots level. In the pecking order I’d say definitely ice hockey is number one. Soccer is big too and probably number two in terms of participation numbers, then you have baseball, basketball and Canadian football. It’s a bit like Australia in that you have so many options to choose from! Rugby may not be one of the traditional games but our crowds are getting bigger and we sold out BC Place (a multi-purpose stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia) against the Maori which is great. They’re also putting in some good programmes so they’re lifting the level and there’s now one confirmed professional team in Toronto for the next Major League rugby season with talk of another possible one in Vancouver.

This season has been a success for Newcastle Falcons with a European semi-final and a chance of a top four finish*..

It’s bordered on a great season and a top four finish would be just that. I remember watching eagerly when I’d signed to see if we would be relegated and I’d spend another year in the Championship. Last season we finished eighth and we were in the mix for the top six. Now, we are genuine top four contenders and reaching a European semi-final is a good sign. Traditionally we’ve played the younger English guys in those games and sometimes last season we got blown out by teams like the Ospreys, but this year we’ve done well with a lot of the same guys. They’re clearly a year older, a year better, more experienced and that younger group of guys are really starting to step up.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m off contract at the moment and there’s talks going on around the place, I’ve got a few options both here and overseas which I’m weighing up at the minute. Hopefully, I’ll know very soon.

If you do stay the plan must be to bring some silverware to the club?

Yes, I’d love to stay and to bring some silverware here. It’s the perfect situation for me. I love the area and there’s a great set-up here at the club. We’ve got a great bunch of guys who are working very hard and the coaching staff are very good as well. We work harder than any team I’ve ever been part of or seen.

Finally, you’ve been described as a bit of an extrovert?

Some people say I can be too loud and I might have been accused of talking above my place at times but where I grew up in Australia that’s how we are. I just like to talk to people and make as many friends as I can everywhere I go.

Due to an increase in other  commitments this is my last column for the North East Times magazine. Thank you very much to everyone on the team fo r letting me be part of the magazine for the last two-and-a-half years. I wish the team continued success in the future.
Thank you all for reading
Steve

*at time of going to press

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