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Blues star Francis signs with English club Northampton

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 03: Piers Francis of the Blues is tackled by Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs during the round two Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Rugby Park on March 3, 2017 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

English Premiership club Northampton Saints have announced that they have signed Blues Super Rugby back Piers Francis for the  2017/18 season.

Francis arrived in New Zealand eight years ago to develop his game and caught the eye of the Auckland Academy while playing club rugby and was quickly gaining experience in the National Provincial Championship for Auckland and Waikato.

The twenty-six -year-old had a short stint playing for Edinburgh but then soon returned to New Zealand and so impressed Tana Umaga at Counties Manukau that he was drafted into The Blues’ squad for 2016.

Francis made 11 appearances in 2016 which earned him the Rookie of the Year honours for the Blues and later in the year he guided Counties Manukau to a first win over Auckland at Eden Park in 39 years, en route to the Mitre 10 Cup semi-finals.

This year Francis has become a member of The Blues’ core squad and leadership group and has played in all four rounds of Super Rugby played to date.

While he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in New Zealand the Gravesend-born back is looking forward to returning to England and playing for the Saints in the Aviva Premiership.

“I will always be thankful for my opportunities in New Zealand, and to Tana Umaga for giving me my chance with Counties Manukau and with The Blues,” he said.

“It’s been a brilliant time for me in Auckland, but I’m now excited by the prospect of joining the Saints and getting to grips with the Aviva Premiership.

“Northampton is a massive club that’s known the world over, and I’m joining a team with a huge amount of talent. It’s going to be brilliant to be training and playing alongside the calibre of players in the squad.

“I can’t wait to get started at Franklin’s Gardens, but before that there’s a lot of rugby still to be played in Super Rugby, and hopefully a game against the British and Irish Lions, too!”

Director of rugby Jim Mallinder is delighted that Francis has agreed to join the Saints.

“Piers is a player who has been very impressive over the past couple of years,” he said.

“He is a very good playmaker who is comfortable with ball in hand but who can also control a match with his kicking game, too. He has all the talent and temperament that it takes to be a success in the Aviva Premiership and we’re looking forward to him joining us later in the year.

“We’re already excited about 2017/18 and the signings we have made, with Piers joining Rob Horne and Cobus Reinach in the backs and Mitch Eadie and Jamal Ford Robinson in the forwards. Plenty of our current players also starred in the Six Nations and we believe that we will be in the position to compete at the top end of the Aviva Premiership next season.”