Blues No 10 Piers Francis ready to chase England ambition with Northampton
It's time, figures Piers Francis, to put this Kiwi rugby education of his to some use and see how far it can take him back in England.
And if it happens to be all the way into Eddie Jones' national setup, then the last eight years, on and off, honing his craft in the finest rugby nursery on the planet would have been the best part of a decade well spent.
The Blues and Counties Manukau first five-eighths has been unveiled as the latest signing of the Northampton Saints in England's Premiership, and will join the club in November after he has completed his Super and provincial rugby commitments in New Zealand.
Francis, now 26, first came to New Zealand as an 18-year-old looking to fast-track his footy development; now he says he owes it to himself not to "die wondering" about how far he can take a shot at playing test rugby in the biggest arenas in the world.
"I'm not qualified for New Zealand and I am for England, so any player is going to have international aspirations, and I'm no different," he told Fairfax Media at Blues training on Tuesday. "It gives me an opportunity to see whether I'm good enough, and that's exciting.
"I know it's going to be tough, but I feel like it's the right time for me where I am with my game. I'm in a good place, and I didn't want to die not knowing if I could give it a shot. I'll try my best and if it's not good enough, it's not good enough; but if it is, happy days."
Francis is well aware what an established and successful squad Jones has with his current England setup after they've just rattled off 18 consecutive test victories and back-to-back Six Nations titles before last weekend's shock defeat to Ireland in Dublin.
He's equally aware that in George Ford and Owen Farrell they have a pair of world-class No 10s who are going to take some budging.
"They're in a good spot and Eddie Jones is doing good things with them. That's always exciting from an Englishman's point of view. They're getting results week-in, week out, they're doing some special things, and long may it continue."
Francis came to New Zealand in his first year out of school with a few hard-earned dollars in his pocket and a yearn to learn. He joined the Auckland Marist club, via a coach he knew from England, and eventually made his way up the ranks to play provincial rugby for Auckland, Waikato and Counties Manukau around a stint back home with Edinburgh. He has spent the last two years with the Blues under his former Steelers mentor Tana Umaga.
"You could say I've been around a bit, and there have been ups and downs along the way. It's nice to see that perseverance and persistence pay off, and now we'll see where it takes me.
"I've taken a lot from the rugby here. [New Zealand] is still the No 1 team in the world, so that has to be something to do with the way things are down out here. I'd like to think I've got a good grip on that and can take those learnings back to the UK."
Francis' timing is interesting, given he's just wrestled the Blues No 10 jersey off Ihaia West. The Englishman started last Friday's 33-24 defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch and should retain it for Saturday's visit to Albany by the Bulls of South Africa.
"I'm really happy to be given the opportunity, and in this game it's all about opportunities, and taking them. That's what I will continue to do.
"The No 10 jersey is the one I've always wanted to get my hands on, so I'm happy now in my eightth year I've finally got to that goal. The idea is to hold on to it now and push on."
And, of course, turn this season of the Blues' around after a 1-3 start that sees them sitting on just six competition points.
"We reviewed ourselves hard from Saturday's game," he said of a match in which they surrendered a 24-5 lead. "We felt we played the way we wanted for 55-60 minutes. It's now a case of putting in an 80-minute performance. That's our sole focus going into Saturday's game against the Bulls. We believe we're in good space and ready to push on and turn that corner now."