Rugby: Piers Francis warns Edinburgh over Connacht

Piers Francis is hoping to help Edinburgh to a 'hat-trick' on wins. Picture: Robert Perry
Piers Francis is hoping to help Edinburgh to a 'hat-trick' on wins. Picture: Robert Perry
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Stand off Piers Francis is warning Edinburgh Rugby to put an emphasis on discipline when they bid to complete a “hat-trick” of RaboDirect PRO12 victories for the first time in 29 months against Connacht at Murrayfield tonight.

After wins against Ulster and Zebre, Edinburgh could climb two places to eighth with success tonight, but only if they recognise the extent of the threat posed by former 
Scotland stand off Dan Parks in opposition colours.

Parks’ prowess with the boot is well-known and extends to accumulating 1441 points at league level – 501 more than nearest challenger Ronan O’Gara.

This has not escaped the attention of opposite number Francis, whose own surge to form over the past couple of games has coincided with a mini Edinburgh revival.

Francis said: “We’ve spoken about Dan Parks quite a lot this week (because) he is pretty pivotal to Connacht. He knows every blade of grass on Murrayfield better than I do. We will look to shut him down if we can.

“Dan has such a great kicking game that discipline has got to be key. We have got to play at the right end of the park, as always.”

While Edinburgh’s new managing director David Davies is not yet ready for public pronouncements, it was a sign of the impending changing of the admin guard that even before taking up his post on Monday he was a conspicuous presence at the team announcement.

Observations were being made of a marketing nature and Davies will also be present tonight when a new individual record could be set.

The suspicion is that an urgency exists to get down to business and that could be mirrored on the field by Tim Visser.

Currently on 48 tries throughout his Celtic League career, Visser is locked in a race with Tommy Bowe, who makes a comeback from injury for Ulster against Dragons tonight, to become the first man to a half century.

What should help is the settled nature of the Edinburgh team under interim coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge as they parade an unchanged back-line.

Francis admits greater continuity is helping, explaining: “Stability has contributed to my game, as does having a coach like Duncan Hodge to call upon after he played at the highest level in my position.

“I had a difficult time to start [against Racing Metro in the Heineken European Cup], but what has helped has been 
going back to core skills, 
practising the things we do like kicking and catching.

“And of course, in my role as a distributor, I like to put players through gaps while trying to do the same myself when the 
situation arises.”

Englishman Francis joined from Waikato Chiefs after 
leaving home as a teenager to further his rugby in New 
Zealand. “Going out to there was a huge step, especially as I had just finished school, but I had ambitions to play at a level I had set myself and thought it was the place to go,” he said.

“The transition back has probably taken longer than I thought, but I’ve stuck with it and ground things out. Edinburgh have done the same and pulling off a win at Zebre last time by the skin of our teeth showed a lot of character.

“In the past we have 
had chances to put teams away and didn’t take them, Hopefully that last result was a true 
measurement of a capability we look to bring into play against 
Connacht.”

Some eyebrows will be raised by the inclusion at No 8 of Netani Talei in a week where it was announced he will leave to join Dragons at the season’s end.

However, interim coach 
Scott insisted: “I have had a discussion with Netani and I want to see him leave with a bang. He has agreed to give it his all for the last three games, so I have no issue with him in the team.

“Continuity comes with 
winning, but we can still make changes on the back of wins and the team need to be aware of that players are not assured of their place.

“I think we are going in the right direction. We are 
treating the end of season as a mini league as we are playing teams around us.”

Meanwhile, a three change pack provides a start for 
openside flanker Hamish Watson, one of the new stars on the Scottish rugby horizon.