TO say that last season was difficult for Piers Francis and Edinburgh would be an understatement. Arriving from the Waikato Chiefs in November, the stand-off joined a squad that had lost its way and would soon lose its coaching team, too.
Francis made his first start for Edinburgh in a Heineken Cup tie against Racing Metro last December, and missed four out of five attempts at goal as his team lost 3-15 to the French side. It was an inauspicious outing, but he is confident that he and his team have now shrugged off such substandard showings and are ready to do themselves justice.
“I’m glad last season is behind me,” he said. “It was difficult. Looking back on it now, I was chucked in. At the time I was enthusiastic to jump in and try to do my best. It was difficult not knowing the boys or the coaches too well, or the systems we were trying to implement.
“It was tough with the weather conditions when I came in November. The first week we were all indoors because of the snow, and I hadn’t really experienced snow for a couple of years. It was a bit of a shock to the system.
“I’m a lot happier now, with the pre-season we’ve had. It’s been a long and good pre- season, and [it has helped] to get my body in good condition and get to know the boys a lot better.
“When I first arrived results weren’t going our way and all three of the coaches went within not too long of me being there. The club wasn’t in the best of places, I guess, and that might have made my transition a bit more difficult as well with the change of coaches.
“There was a snowball effect from there, really. But I was pleased when Duncan Hodge and Stevie Scott came in for the last six games and we had some positive results. The boys were pretty enthusiastic, there was a new outlook and I think that showed on the pitch. We were hungry to finish the season well, and I think we did that reasonably well. We had a few decent wins – beating Ulster at home was one of those big wins.”
Edinburgh may not have got off to a winning start this season under new head coach Alan Solomons, having lost at Munster on Saturday night, but there was enough in parts of that 34-23 defeat to provide grounds for optimism. Francis started at No 10 and played the first hour, kicking two penalties and a conversion, and hopes he did enough to retain the jersey for Friday’s home game against the Dragons.
“Selection pending, it will be good to get back out at Murrayfield on Friday. The ground’s looking in incredible condition, which for a [number] ten is nice to see. I’m happy now where I am, and with the build-up we’ve had to this season. The new coaches haven’t been here long, but there is a bit more solidarity now, and we know that the coaches will be here for a decent length of time.
“They’re trying to implement their stuff, and I think the boys are reacting well to it. There is still going to be a small transition period, because they haven’t been here very long. Rugby’s a pretty simple game, but there are certain systems that the coaches like us to adhere to, and certain ways in which we like to play. That was pretty evident with the Munster game at the weekend. We didn’t try to muck around too much.
“Fundamentally, in terms of defence, you’ve got to make your one-on-one tackles. Regardless of the system that we’re trying to implement, it is down to one-one-ones and boys trying to do your own job. That all collectively works for the team.
“I haven’t spoken too much to Alan, because, obviously, he’s got a lot on his plate at the moment in trying to get the team to play the way he wants us to play. But he’s got a lot of confidence in me and I’m trying to reward him in terms of staying pretty calm and making sure we get the team at the right end of the field.
“I think that’s key. We’ve got a decent forward pack and if we can launch at the right end of the field with them, I think we’ve got a real chance of winning games.”
Successful kicking is often an essential component in winning games, and Francis is confident he can fulfil that aspect of his duties.
He added: “I enjoy kicking. I’ve always kicked, growing up. It’s part of the game I work hard on, so it was nice to get the opportunity.
“The horror show when I turned up here against Racing Metro was one to forget, but that’s behind me now and this is the new season. I just want to get out there and play, and try to do my best for the team.”