12:37am, 14 May 2022
Speaking to media ahead of his franchise debut against the Fijian Drua last week, the 34-year-old revealed the allure of playing for the All Blacks for the first time since 2019 was a driving factor in his decision to come home.
An All Blacks centurion who won two World Cups in 2011 and 2015, Franks was the shock omission from New Zealand’s World Cup squad three years ago.
That selection call, made by former All Blacks head coach Sir Steve Hansen, effectively ended Franks’ 108-test international career before his departure to England.
However, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall, a teammate of Franks’ during his decade long stay at the Christchurch-based franchise between 2009 and 2019, firmly believes the veteran front rower is more than capable of an All Blacks comeback.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Hall said he “would not be surprised” if Franks worked his way back into the national set-up due to his professionalism and vast experience.
“It doesn’t surprise me with Owie and his mindset,” Hall said of Franks’ comments about his desire to play for the All Blacks again.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to play a lot of rugby with him when he was at the Crusaders, and if you’re talking about one percenters and being a professional rugby players, get around Owen Franks and see what it looks like to be a professional rugby player.
“He’d even come back from an Achilles [injury] early. Honestly just not surprised with how he is as a rugby player and how professional he is, but, to tell you the truth, pretty tough seeing him in a yellow strip, to be honest.
“He’s a centurion of ours and very similar to [Blues lock] Luke Romano around plying his trade somewhere else, but the opportunity’s come for him and I would not be surprised if he ends up being an All Black again because we know how strong he is at set piece.
“There’s nothing that would put it past Owie with his mindset, and so it was good to see him back on the field – bar it being a yellow jersey.”
Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons added that Franks would also provide the All Blacks with a “point of difference” through his playing style.
Renowned for his strong set piece work, confrontational defence and effectiveness in the collision zone, Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that Franks differs from mobile, ball-playing props who are sought after in New Zealand.
“We know how good the backs are, we know how good the loosies are, but if they can provide that platform for those guys to fire off, he could be a key cog in that,” Parsons said of Franks.
“He is a little bit point of difference in terms of props in this part of the world. There’s a lot of that ball-carrying skillset-mindset, but he’s just going to give you the simple stuff done.”
Franks’ contrasting skillset to that of his fellow props was the primary reason behind Hansen’s decision to omit him from the 2019 World Cup squad, and Hall highlighted the importance of having props who are skilled in the finer details of the game.
“I think to be able to contest around these Northern Hemisphere teams, you’re looking at the likes of Ireland, probably, at the moment, have one of the better propping duos in the world, more so around their skillset and how explosive they are,” Hall said.
“They can ball-play at the line, which is going to be really important, especially against these line speed pressure teams and being able to, under pressure, hit the tip ball, go out the back and being able to put it on the front hands of where you need as a pivot.
“There’s a lot of props running around at the moment that are doing that. You’ve got a lot of young guys coming through, you’ve got big Tamaiti Williams, who I think’s got a big future in our club and in world rugby, just with attributes and what he can bring.
“I feel that the next generation moving forward, there’s a lot of guys that are going to be in that kind of mould where I’m seeing the likes of Ireland and the French, being able to play with ball at the line.”
In saying that, though, Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that it’s equally important to have strong scrummagers, like Franks, who can ensure their teams with good, front-foot ball.
“I think, as well, you’ve still got to be able to win your set piece ball. You know how important it is in World Cups, even [against] Ireland and big teams that involve a lot of contact, you’ve got to win your set piece at scrum time,” he said.
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