Deep in rugby-mad Crusaders country a lone St George's Cross flies outside the Heinz family home.

For the past four weeks proud Kiwis Bob and Jane Heinz have been embracing the England rugby team – which includes their Canterbury-born son Willi - as they follow the side's path to tonight's Rugby World Cup semifinal against the All Blacks.


"You should see my letterbox, mate. It has the biggest red and white flag you have ever seen hanging off of it," Willi's mum, Jane, told the Weekend Herald.

"We are definitely supporting England. It's England all the way."

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Heinz will start on the bench for England tonight against the All Blacks, more than four years after ending his childhood dream of playing for the All Blacks by signing for leading UK club Gloucester.

The 32-year-old qualifies for England through his English-born grandmother Aylieff.

Willi Heinz's parents, Jane and Bob Heinz, proudly fly the St George's Cross outside their Canterbury home. Photo / Supplied
Willi Heinz's parents, Jane and Bob Heinz, proudly fly the St George's Cross outside their Canterbury home. Photo / Supplied

He was first ear-marked for England honours in 2017 after being named in a training squad by national coach Eddie Jones.

The halfback made his test debut against Wales in August; also being given responsibility as vice-captain. He has earned another four caps at the World Cup.

Heinz's journey to wearing the 'Red Rose' across his chest comes after he made the heart-wrenching decision to end his childhood dream of playing for the All Blacks, aged 28.

"It was so competitive and so many good players around," his father, Bob, said of the decision to chase international honours with England.

"You sort of have to wait your turn, but you can't wait around forever. We are thrilled for him."

Willi Heinz passes the ball during England's pool play match against the USA. Naoki Nishimura/AFLO SPORT
Willi Heinz passes the ball during England's pool play match against the USA. Naoki Nishimura/AFLO SPORT

Heinz's path to the No 1 halfback spot at the Crusaders was blocked by All Black halfback Andy Ellis. His lack of exposure at Super Rugby level meant he was well down in the pecking order for AB contenders.

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Instead, he, wife Sophie and their three children travelled to the birth country of his beloved grandmother.

"He had gone as far as he could here and England was always huge in our family," Jane said. "It's where Mum had come from. Dad had picked her up over there during the war, married her and brought her back here.

Willi's grandfather, William, met Aylieff while in the UK with the New Zealand Navy during World War II. Aylieff was a member of Britain's Women's Royal Naval Service.

"My mum ... she was a huge influence in our lives," Jane said.

"She was really keen and followed all the things our three children did. Mum lived with us towards the end of her life and Will was still living with us. He was really close to Mum."

Willi Heinz, right, congratulates team-mates after a try in the pool-play match against Tonga. Photo / AP
Willi Heinz, right, congratulates team-mates after a try in the pool-play match against Tonga. Photo / AP

On the eve of making his test debut against Wales in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup, Heinz paid tribute to her, telling reporters: "I was always really close with her.

"She was an avid sports fan and a very proud Englishwoman. She never got the opportunity to get back here as much as she would have liked but she always really encouraged me and my sisters to come over and live here if we got the opportunity.

"I know she would be hugely proud of me getting this chance."

Jane said the entire Heinz family were "proud and thrilled" for Willi.

"It hasn't come easy for him. He has always been determined, there's no two ways about that," she said.

Jane will be in the stands at International Stadium Yokohama tonight, along with one of Heinz's sisters, Francesca, to watch England take on the All Blacks.

"We encouraged him 100 per cent [to play for England]."

Willi Heinz in action for Canterbury in 2010. New Zealand Herald photograph / Martin Hunter
Willi Heinz in action for Canterbury in 2010. New Zealand Herald photograph / Martin Hunter

Willi was now one of Gloucester's biggest stars and is captain of their top team.

Jane said they were pleased he had signed with such a great club, and also paid tribute to his wife Sophie who had wholeheartedly supported him in relocating his family to the other side of the wide and chase his test rugby dream with England.

"You couldn't get a more supportive and wonderful wife. She has been with him the whole way on this adventure," she said.

"The only thing that worries me is that I don't know if he will ever come home. He is really happy over there ... they all are. They have all settled really well and the children talk like little Poms."