Born in England, made in NZ: Piers Francis goes from coffee shop to World Cup
Piers Francis went from being told he was too small by Saracens to making it big in New Zealand.
Released by England’s champion club as a teenager, the Kent schoolboy refused to take no for an answer; packing up his dreams and taking them to the other side of the world.
Today he is in Miyazaki with Eddie Jones preparing for the Rugby World Cup, having been picked ahead of Danny Cipriani for the 31-man England squad.
“It feels good to be here,” said the Northampton midfielder, who arrived in Japan buzzing from playing in all four summer Tests. “But this has always been my goal.
“Even when I was released from the Saracens academy I knew I wanted to play professional rugby and to play for England, as far away as it seemed at the time.
“I was a pretty skinny, small lad at that point. I wasn't fully physically developed. But I knew in my head what I needed to do, regardless of other people’s opinions.”
That, much to his parents surprise, was to defer his place at university and get on a flight to New Zealand, as “they were the No.1 team in the world and it seemed the best place to go”.
Kent has produced many a sporting great, from cricketers David Gower and Colin Cowdrey to England rugby captain Martin Corry and Olympic champions Dame Kelly Holmes and Lizzy Yarnold.
Francis’ prospects of joining that list looked slim when he arrived in Auckland and took a job making coffee in Starbucks.
But he rocked up at the local club and within a year had played ITM Cup rugby for both Auckland and Waikato, leading to a move to Edinburgh.
“I always felt the top was so far away where I was in England, almost unattainable,” said the 29-year-old who would return to New Zealand for a second spell, this time for the Auckland Blues, where he was clocked – and capped – by Jones.
“In New Zealand you get Super Rugby players and All Blacks who come back and play for their clubs. If you're in London South East 2 you don’t get the chance to play with Billy Vunipola and have a conversation with him.
“Being exposed to guys like Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams made the gap seem closer. It really stimulated me. I was thinking: 'They're not the galacticos I thought they were.’
“It fuels the fire to keep at it and gives you the realisation that things are achievable. However big things might seem at 16 years old, don’t let it go. Look where I am now.”
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