Blues first-five Piers Francis, pictured on the burst against the Chiefs, is returning to England at the end of the season. / Photo: Photosport
Blues first-five Piers Francis, pictured on the burst against the Chiefs, is returning to England at the end of the season. / Photo: Photosport

The selection of the Blues’ No10, a subject of much discussion for more than a decade since Carlos Spencer’s unique reign, has been given an added twist for the team’s next match against the Bulls following the announcement by Piers Francis that he is off to Northampton after this season.

Francis is adamant he should remain in the position after his performance against the Crusaders, and coach Tana Umaga is almost certain to agree.

Ihaia West, the previous incumbent, will likely get his chance again this season, but for now the 26-year-old from Gravesend in Kent should be relied upon to put the Blues back on track no matter that he is returning to the country of his birth.

The Blues desperately need a win after three successive losses to New Zealand teams, and they showed in that first 50 minutes at AMI Stadium that they have in Francis a game manager who can help them do that. It’s time for pragmatism.

Asked today before the Blues trained at their Alexandra Park headquarters whether his decision to leave would play a part in Umaga’s selections, Francis said: “I don’t think so. If I’m performing and the team is performing then what is happening post-season shouldn’t affect it. If I’m not performing then I don’t expect to be given the jersey.”

In the first half against the Crusaders, the Blues returned to the attacking heights of their round-one victory over the Rebels in Melbourne, before the home side instigated their almost inevitable fightback and overturned a 21-5 halftime deficit to win 33-24.

All of visitors’ backs, and in particular midfielders George Moala and Rieko Ioane and wings Melani Nanai and Matt Duffie displayed an attacking spark that has been absent in their defeats to the Chiefs and Highlanders and for that reason Francis is right to feel confident he will get the nod again.

The Bulls will bring a big pack but the Blues have the firepower out wide to cause them difficulties.

His decision to leave is likely to disappoint Umaga, a coach in his second year at the franchise and still searching for a long-term first-five, but in Francis’ favour is the fact that he has kept Umaga informed throughout the past fortnight.

“I’ve been speaking to him over the last couple of weeks so I’ve kept him in the loop,” Francis told the Herald.

“These opportunities arise pretty quickly and they can be taken pretty quickly. It’s only really in the last two weeks that this has come about.

“I spoke to ‘T’ in depth about it. I’m pleased I kept him in the loop. The timing is a tricky thing. As you say, I’ve been given the 10 jersey which I’ve been craving for a while now.”

Umaga, who was also Francis’ coach at Counties, has had a big impact on his career in New Zealand. Umaga has always prized the Englishman’s toughness, but the inside back was also hugely impressive with his composure and running game late last season when replacing West in the No10 jersey, and he’s likely to be given every chance again.

“I came back over here and [Umaga] gave me the opportunity at Counties and I’ve always had the intention of not letting him down and not letting the jersey down.

“I’m really grateful for my time out here in New Zealand with the Blues rugby team and for New Zealand Rugby in general for the support they’ve given me, but I feel it’s the right time for me. A big factor is that my whole family is over there and it would be great for them to experience the journey that I’m on.”

- NZ Herald