By Andy Golding, BA (Hons) Sports Business & Sports Law Lecturer at UCFB Wembley

The rise of Piers Francis as a member of the 31 strong England World Cup Squad and a potential World Cup winner following this Saturday’s highly anticipated clash with South Africa, epitomises the drive and desire to follow a dream in the relentless pursuit of being the very best that you can be.

It is a journey that was not without difficulty, disappointment and much soul searching and it certainly was not the conventional route that most follow to become an international England Rugby Player.

I had the opportunity as the then Director of Rugby at Maidstone Rugby Club to work with Piers when he was a 17 year old. It was clear at that age having made his way into the first 15 at fly-half that he had the makings of becoming an excellent player. However, I remember vividly one conversation that I had with Piers when he was unsure of himself, having previously been cut from the Saracens Academy and wondering what direction his rugby might take. The key was that he never gave up. Instead, he galvanised himself and focussed on a path that took him to the hot-bed of rugby that is New Zealand in his unerring pursuit to test himself, become a professional rugby player and ultimately play for England. As he would say, this is where he learnt his apprenticeship, which as it turned out, enabled him to get that little bit closer to fulfilling his dreams.

Having hooked up with a former Kent coach, who now coaches Auckland Marist under-21s, he then made the first grade and then the Auckland Academy. Five years later, after spells at Doncaster and a tough and injury-plagued stint at Edinburgh, which led to him being released, his big break came when he was awarded a contract with Super Rugby’s Blues.

Even then, he had doubts about whether he could play top-flight rugby but having played rugby with some of the top All Blacks players at the Blues, he had the belief that he could make it and what at one point had seemed unattainable, was now very much achievable.

It was during his two seasons in one of the toughest leagues in world rugby that he came to the attention of England Head Coach, Eddie Jones, and won his first England cap against Argentina, where he scored a maiden try in the second match to secure a 2-0 series win before he had even played for English Premiership Club Northampton, where he was destined. Indeed, such was his focus on playing for his country of birth that he sacrificed an opportunity to play for his New Zealand club side against the British and Irish Lions – an opportunity and accolade that would have been enough for most people.

Believing in yourself and your abilities and setting a clear path to achieve your goals are a lesson for any budding rugby player or sports person. Indeed, as Piers has previously been quoted as saying: “However big things might seem at 16 years of age, don’t let it go. Look where I am now in a World Cup 31.”

As I reflect on my own dealings with Piers and how far he has come in pursuit of his dreams, I am reminded of the focus, motivation and commitment that is required to be at the top of your game in whatever sport, walk of life or career path that you choose. We must also remember, that is it not just about the potential prize at the end but also the manner in which you set your targets to achieve your objectives and how you deal with the setbacks and adversity that you might face along the way. To do this, as in Piers' case, requires a high degree of emotional resilience, a dogged determination and a never-say-die attitude, and most importantly the will and ambition to follow your dreams – however big or small they are…