Sunday 25 September 2016

Kiwi flyer keeps smile on his face as he settles at province

Relaxed attitude helps former Auckland Blue to produce to a high standard when required

Daragh Small

Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30

Francis Saili believes Munster have had a rollercoaster season. Photo: Sportsfile
Francis Saili believes Munster have had a rollercoaster season. Photo: Sportsfile

With big-money TV deals and lucrative sponsorship contracts, elite level professional athletes are paid big sums of money to perform on the field week in, week out.

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A slight drop in the levels of intensity leaves the players open to criticism. The stress is undeniable, but how does Francis Saili retain his trademark grin under pressure?

When it was announced last April that Munster had signed a two-time All Black, it was clear he would have to bring it from the off.

He was the marquee name that came in as the iconic figure of Paul O'Connell exited. And in a period of transition the Munster results were always set to suffer.

But the 24-year-old former Auckland Blues centre hasn't shown any signs of wear and tear, as he continues to adapt to rugby in the northern hemisphere.

So what's his secret? Many big acquisitions have fallen by the wayside in the rough and tumble of European rugby, but Saili's trusty PlayStation 4 helps him unwind ahead off the big matches ahead.

"I take my PlayStation everywhere with me, even if we are just playing away from home. It's always nice to relax my mind on the night before a game. It's nice to have a play around on the PlayStation with a couple of the boys. It's just a bit of fun.

"I am mainly into my sports games. 2K, it's a basketball game, that's the main game that I would play most of the time. I have a few other games too, like Destiny, that's a shooting game. But I am mostly into my sports games.

"I don't follow much outside of rugby, but I do like the NBA. I know my teams and my favourite players.

"My favourite team would have to be the Chicago Bulls, I am a big fan of Derrick Rose. But Stephen Curry is great as well. And probably my other team is the Oakland Thunders, because of a Kiwi fella who plays for them, Steven Adams.

"But when it comes to the PlayStation, my favourite team would have to be the Miami Heat," he said.

Munster might have been in transition recently, but it doesn't even compare to the upheaval in Saili's life as he had to move to the opposite side of the world.

Before ex-All Black and Auckland great, Doug Howlett, helped convince him to pull on the famous red jersey, Saili had won a Junior World Championship, lit up Super Rugby with the Blues and played ITM Cup for Auckland and North Harbour.

Saili played 42 times for the Auckland franchise and his silky skills won him many admirers, helping him to his first cap for the All Blacks against Argentina in 2013 - he followed that up less than a month later against Japan.

Injury

At just 22, Saili looked set to be a future star for his country, but injury got in the way and he chose to head for pastures new.

With his contract up at the end of next season, Saili could yet go back south, but for now he is focused on the challenge of making history with Munster.

"On the pitch, it's been a bit of a roller coaster. We had a patch there where we lost five in a row. We are still optimistic, we are still working towards our perfect game. With the group that we have, it's a new young group coming through, and it's a new era. You have the likes of Paul O'Connell, an old head to have left. It's a good way for us young bucks coming through, and the leaders that are in there at the moment, to step in and take charge.

"We are at a place where we are always building and learning about the game. Soon enough we will get our game clicking. Hopefully we can follow through after Europe.

"We are all here to make history, we are here to win championships. Everyone in Munster wants to win silverware.

"For myself I know I am here to put my name in the history books. That I was here in the 2015, 2016 and '17 seasons when we won championships.

"You have to have that mentality if you want to go further in life, or go further in rugby," he said.

Now living in Castletroy with Aussie Sean Doyle, they are within walking distance of team-mates Cathal Sheridan, Shane Buckley, Tyler Bleyendaal, Mark Chisholm and CJ Stander, to name a few.

But Saili misses home all the same, he regards his team-mates as his new family, but nothing can substitute for his own one back home - although his brother Peter plays rugby with Bordeaux-Begles in France and his sister is abroad too.

They all linked up at Christmas and Saili cannot wait to see them again this summer, when he plans to return home on holiday. But it's all Munster for now, as he looks to add to his 13 appearances for the province and bag that elusive first try.

"I came into a team where they have a different way of playing. For me, I am just trying to adapt myself into the systems, but at the same time I try and express myself.

"I don't think I have shown what I have, just yet. But I'm thinking every week, and every day how I can get better, how I can show my potential in this team.

"I didn't come here to do a half-hearted job. I want to give my all and put my best foot forward. I am growing as a player every day, I am growing as a person also.

"I'm just trying to express myself any way I can. They picked me for a reason, if I can show them why they picked me then everything else should fall into place."

Irish Independent

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