From Starbucks in Auckland to the luxury hotel in the Japanese coastal resort of Miyazaki, Piers Francis's journey to the World Cup has been shaped by toil and persistence.

Cut from the Saracens academy when he was just 17 as he was deemed not big enough for the professional game, the 29 year-old has known no other way. It is a resilience that would eventually win him place in Eddie Jones' 31-man squad ahead of more established and celebrated players such as Ben Te'o and Danny Cipriani.

His doggedness would take him from Old Gravesendians, the junior club in Kent where he first picked up a ball and Maidstone FC, to New Zealand after deferring university to play for the Marist club and working as a barista in Auckland to help make ends meet. In reality he had no interest in returning to England to continue his studies.

"I knew what I wanted to do," Francis recalls. "I wanted to play professional rugby and I wanted to play for England. As far away as it seemed at the time, New Zealand were the no 1 team in the world and it seemed to be the best place to go. That is where I did my apprenticeship.


"It was a gap year. I finished school and wasn't keen to go to university immediately. So it was branded to mum and dad that I would take a gap year. I knew in my head what I needed to do and that was to pursue the rugby as best as I could. I had a deferred uni place, but I couldn't even tell you where it was. That was how interested I was.

"It really fuelled the fire and really cemented of what I wanted to do, regardless of people's opinions.

"I had an old Kent coach who was coaching Auckland Marist under-21s. That was the only club I knew, so I hooked out with him and made contact with Marist.

"My first job was at Starbucks in Queen Street, making coffees. I wouldn't say I'm a professional coffeemaker but I've done it. Back then the machines were proper ones, they're not the button machines they have now.

"I'd train on Tuesday and Thursday nights and play on Saturdays but I'd also train with the academy at 5.30-6am and then go to work and then train again in the evening. I played under-21s and the next year I made the first grade."

The Auckland academy were the first to recognise his latent talent, as his gap year rolled into a second, and he was selected for the Counties Manukau in the National Provincial Competition.

The team was coached by Tana Umaga and would lead to place in Auckland Blues' squad and eventually to a place at inside centre for their Super Rugby campaign. The opportunity to play with some of the finest talent in New Zealand took his game to a new level and keeping alive his dream of returning one day to play for England.

"At Marist I played with the Saili was just cool to rub shoulders and get snippets of information from them," Francis adds. "


"At Maidstone I wouldn't have had the chance to play with Billy Vunipola and have a conversation with him. If you're in London South East 2 you don't get the exposure to the top guys.

"In the Auckland team at the time were Gareth Anscombe and Hadleigh Parkes. It's quite ironic...I was the number 10 behind Gareth in 2011 for Auckland. I was really gutted about his injury (which has ruled the Wales fly-out out of the World Cup).

"I was privileged enough to play with Rieko, Sonny Bill and George level All Blacks. It just gives you the realisation that things are achievable. However big things might seem at 16 years old, don't let it go"

Piers Francis of England. Photo / Photosport
Piers Francis of England. Photo / Photosport

Francis first came onto England's radar when he signed for Northampton Saints in 2017, and Jones, who has made no secret of his penchant for selecting players who have had to battled their way to the top, moved quickly, picking him for the tour of Argentina before he had even made his Premiership debut.

"I was playing for the Blues when I made my debut in Argentina and then went back there before reaching Northampton," Francis says. "I knew at that point I was at a level where I could compete with others.

"It was always a bit of a plan to come back to the UK but I wanted to come back when I was ready. After my second year at the Blues I felt I was in a position to give it a really good shot in the Premiership."

Despite starting in the second Test victory over Los Pumas, there would be no easy way into the England squad however. He came off the bench in the victory over Samoa at Twickenham that autumn and again for England's first Test defeat by South Africa in June last year.

His inclusion in England's training squad for the World Cup would finally give him the platform to give Jones the compelling evidence that he was worth his place, starting in three of the four warm-up Tests.

"It wasn't a case of thinking who was here and: 'Am I competing with him or him.'" Francis addes. "You get put into teams in training, I do that and try to do the best of my ability and try and focus on what Eddie and the coaches try and make me do and just approach it that way.

"The bigger the picture you look at, the more it takes you away from what you need to do. My aim was to contribute to the England team, to be selected in the 31 and then try and make the next step."

It seems the journey may not yet be complete for Francis.