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Tomas Francis: It was always going to be Wales


York-born Exeter prop Tomas Francis has made the most of his opportunities with Wales

York-born Exeter prop Tomas Francis has made the most of his opportunities with Wales

York-born Exeter prop Tomas Francis has made the most of his opportunities with Wales

Tomas Francis is set to be involved in a World Cup quarter-final on Saturday - so it comes as little surprise that he has no regrets about his chosen Test career path.

The York-born Exeter prop might conceivably have been part of England's squad in a home World Cup.

But while the England players have dispersed to all parts following a miserable pool stage exit, Francis and Wales will take centre-stage at Twickenham against twice world champions South Africa.

The 23-year-old, though, does not seek vindication for going down the Wales route.

It was an opportunity afforded him courtesy of his grandmother, who hails from Abercrave in the Swansea Valley, and he has taken to international rugby impressively after making a Wales debut only two months ago.

"England didn't have much interest, and I have never really seen myself as an England prop, if you look at the mould they like," he said.

"I always based my game on set-piece, really, and I was a big lad who got around. My game developed, and I added a bit more, and I always felt I would fit in better with the Wales set-up.

"From when I started playing professional rugby, which was quite late at 19, I never really looked at England that much.

"Once Wales showed interest, England tried to get in there and stop it, but I had spoken to 'Gats' (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) and made my decision.

"The way Wales play their rugby is the same as Exeter. That's the game I enjoy playing."

Francis has enjoyed a remarkable rise, having gone from a 24-stone university prop four years ago to World Cup tighthead and been involved in all four of Wales' pool games.

"When I was at Doncaster, I was playing Championship rugby on a Saturday and Yorkshire Under-20s on a Sunday," he added.

"I tried to get into the England Counties Under-20s set-up, and they said I wasn't fit enough. They tried to play two trial games back to back, and in the second game, I was too tired, apparently.

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"I was always going to go this way. It is not a case of proving people wrong, I just want to be the best prop I can be, and that is going to be with Wales.

"It is my choice. My grandmother is Welsh, and I had the opportunity to go down that route.

"I have never been one for listening to other people, really. If I want to do something, I do it. That's the way I am."

Francis says he has had "a bit of banter" with his Exeter colleagues, England internationals Henry Slade and Jack Nowell, and he is quick to acknowledge the role of Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter in developing him as a player.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Francis said.

"He took a punt on me from the Championship to the Premiership, then the first game in the Premiership he started me. He had faith in me all last season.

"The coaches they have got there are very similar to here (with Wales). They pride themselves on hard work, doing the basics well and working hard on the opposition, and that has transferred well for me.

" It has sunk in a bit more as each game has gone on. There are games I will never forget - playing England at Twickenham in the World Cup, then Australia. There have been some big games, and hopefully there will be a few more.

"Wales have shown what we are about, and we get better and better as tournaments go on. We've not had our best performance yet, and hopefully it can be on Saturday.

"My first (training) camp in the Six Nations, I was a bit star-struck seeing the likes of (Leigh) Halfpenny, Alun-Wyn (Jones) and (Jamie) Roberts, but as soon as you get into the rugby environment, they are your team-mates.

"It's crazy to be sharing a dressing room and a hotel room with my heroes of four years ago. It has been a crazy year."

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