Saints centres ready to get 'up close and personal' with Bristol star Radradra

Piers FrancisPiers Francis
Piers Francis
Piers Francis says he and Saints centre partner Fraser Dingwall are looking forward to getting 'up close and personal' with Bristol star Semi Radradra at Ashton Gate tonight.

Radradra is seen as one of the biggest Gallagher Premiership signings for many a year, with the Fiji star possessing a huge amount of talent.

He will start against Saints this evening as Bristol look to take another step towards securing a top-two finish.

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And when asked about the battle that lies in wait for him at Ashton Gate, Francis said: "He's obviously a very exciting player.

Semi RadradraSemi Radradra
Semi Radradra

"He's got a particular skill-set that's pleasing on the eye to spectators.

"It's good to see him playing and it gives me and Fraser and opportunity to get up close and personal with him.

"I'm excited to put a performance out there.

"Like we have, they've got a few threats across their team.

"We know what he's going to bring and it's a case of dealing with it."

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At the age of 30, Francis is the most senior figure in the Saints back-line that will face Bristol.

And he said: "I'm starting to feel a lot older around these youngsters!

"But what you'll get is a lot of excitement and no fear.

"It's good to see Bristol have put a strong team out to test us and see where we're at.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Francis suffered concussion against London Irish back in January but he used lockdown to return to full fitness.

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Now he is desperate to get his form back to where he wants it to be.

"Late-January was the last time I played before this (the Premiership resumption) kicked off," Francis said.

"It's been an interesting time and it's been good to get back playing rugby.

"There's been a lot of non-rugby training during lockdown so it's good to be back doing what you love to do.

"I feel good.

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"I've played two and a half games now, having not played for six months.

"I'd like to get a few more minutes under my belt to find my feet a bit more.

"Hopefully I'll get some more minutes tonight and find that form."

Saints, who lost 22-19 to Exeter Chiefs last Friday, have won just one of their five games since the Premiership returned.

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And Francis said: "We'll be the first to put our hand up to say that in a couple of big pillars of our game we're slightly below par.

"We rely heavily on certain aspects of our play that probably haven't been good enough so we're working very hard to resurrect that.

"Now it's about applying it to the 80 minutes and it's great that we get a chance to change it tonight.

"Against Exeter, the scoreline was sort of in the back of our heads so we thought we needed to be a bit more conservative and pragmatic.

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"The boys did a fantastic job to tire them out and create opportunities and we got into a boxing battle which is exactly what we didn't want to get into. It cost us.

"It's about us sticking with our DNA and trusting what we can do in our structures to break teams down and give us what we want."

So has the pressure been piling up and affecting performances at Saints?

"We were fully aware of what we needed to do against Exeter last Friday because it was a massive game for us and we really needed the result," Francis said.

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"There was the element of pressure to say 'we need to win this game if we want to be in the top four' but that's professional sport.

"It was always going to notch the pressure up because previous results didn't go our way and we knew the extent of getting a result against Exeter.

"When you're winning, like Exeter are, it's what you do and when you're losing things seem a lot harder and more difficult.

"But we'll turn it around, it won't last forever and we'll start getting into those winning habits."

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Saints appear to be out of the race to finish in the top four, though they do have a Champions Cup quarter-final at Exeter to look forward to on September 20.

So what is there to play for in the Premiership?

"For simply the pride of the Northampton shirt and where we finish for European selection - the seedings are important for next year," Francis said.

"With next season starting so soon after, it's always nice to have a bit of momentum.

"It's all about just trying to get some sort of winning mentality back at the club and I've got no doubt we've got enough talent and experience to turn it around pretty quickly."

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