Quiet destroyer Franks takes centre stage for milestone test

Owen Franks has played for New Zealand since 2009. (Reuters pic)

WELLINGTON: All Blacks prop Owen Franks rarely speaks publicly, preferring to let his ruthless expertise in the dark arts of the front row do his talking for him.

Despite a reluctance to hog the limelight, Franks will be the centre of attention when the specialist tighthead plays his 100th test for New Zealand in their Rugby Championship clash against Australia at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.

The 30-year-old becomes the second centurion for the All Blacks within the space of seven days after his Canterbury Crusaders team mate Sam Whitelock achieved the feat in the 38-13 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney last week.

Franks will become the ninth player to achieve 100 caps for the All Blacks and coach Steve Hansen said his dedication to training, conditioning and nutrition was a major factor in his longevity.

“He is a 120 percenter,” Hansen told reporters on Thursday. “He is a dedicated athlete. He and his brother (Ben) set some massive standards on how to prepare. He has risen the bar in this team without having to say too much.”

Franks’ dedication to ‘chucking tin’ has meant he rarely has a day off and according to former team mate Cory Jane, the prop celebrated the All Blacks’ 2011 World Cup victory by performing 240-kilogramme squats with elder brother Ben the day after.

He also has been meticulous with his diet, to the point where Jane wrote in his 2015 biography that he had learned to “not get between Owen and a meal”, while Hansen suggested that Franks had convinced his bride to carry a protein shake for him on their wedding day.

“I do take food pretty seriously,” Franks said with a grin on Thursday. “I wasn’t 100% certain the caterers would have enough food, so I prepackaged a protein shake to make sure I wouldn’t get hungry during the speeches.”

Franks’ dedication to training from an early age paid off when he became the third-youngest prop to appear for the All Blacks at the age of 21 years, 186 days when he came off the bench against Italy in 2009.

He has been the first-choice tighthead prop ever since, anchoring the scrum to successive World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015, and earning universal acclaim from his team mates.

“He just loves scrummaging, and you know he’s always going to turn up and not give in,” New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick told reporters this week.

“For him to hang in there and play as many tests as he might do in that position is no easy feat. He deserves all the accolades he gets.”

Despite his demonstrable strength in the scum, Franks has also developed his running in the open and ball handling skills that were not as evident earlier in his career.

He is often used as one of the close-quarter passers in midfield when the All Blacks attempt to use their forwards to punch over the gain line.

“Pretty early on in Owie’s career, he loved to scrum. He loved to scrum and he loved to scrum,” Hansen said.

“But there is more to the game than that, and that was his challenge. It’s something he has taken up, and he has turned into a really good all-round rugby player.”