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Owen Franks confirms All Blacks aspirations ahead of injury-delayed Hurricanes debut

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images for NZR)

Three years after he was dropped from Sir Steve Hansen’s 2019 World Cup squad, former All Blacks prop Owen Franks has confirmed his desire to play international rugby for New Zealand again.

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Speaking ahead of his Hurricanes debut against the Fijian Drua at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Sunday, Franks – who has returned to New Zealand from English club Northampton Saints – outlined his aspirations to return to the test arena.

“I’m just competitive. I just want to see if I can mix it with these guys,” Franks, a 108-test veteran who played for the All Blacks between 2009 and 2019, said of his motivation behind his return to New Zealand.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 12
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“I suppose I really enjoyed my time in England, Northampton was a great club, enjoyed the rugby, but it’s different when you know there’s no possibility of making the national team.

“I don’t consider myself in the [All Blacks selection] frame at the minute, but it’s just a different feeling when you know there’s a mountain top to reach, so to speak, and that’s hugely motivating.”

Asked whether those comments indicate that he is open to All Blacks selection, Franks made his test rugby intentions clear.

“I think if you’re playing rugby in New Zealand and you’re eligible for the All Blacks and that’s not your goal, then maybe you should rethink why you’re playing here.”

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Returning to the All Blacks would be a remarkable comeback for Franks, who was the biggest omission from Hansen’s World Cup squad three years ago.

The All Blacks went on to endure a disappointing campaign in Japan, finishing third following a semi-final exit at the hands of England.

Many felt Franks would have offered New Zealand with the physicality and experience that was painfully absent in that defeat in Yokohama.

Instead, it was Northampton that acquired those traits as Franks took his talents to the English Premiership in the wake of that World Cup.

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There, the All Blacks centurion – who won back-to-back World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015 – made 22 appearances for the Saints before announcing his decision, almost a year ago to the day, that he would return to New Zealand.

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However, rather than re-signing with the Crusaders – the franchise he made 150 appearances for and won three Super Rugby titles with between 2009 and 2019 – Franks signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal.

The 34-year-old has had to wait longer than expected to make his Super Rugby Pacific debut for the Wellington-based side, though.

After tearing his achilles while training on his own in November, Franks has missed the opening 11 rounds of this year’s competition, with his last match coming for Northampton against Wasps last February.

That 15-month drought will come to an end when the Hurricanes host the Drua this weekend in a match that Franks will make his first appearance in the yellow-and-black jersey from the bench.

“Been a long road to get back here,” Franks said of that prospect. “Just excited to repay the faith that the Hurricanes have shown in me over the last year. Just desperate to do a good job for the club.”

The Drua clash will also provide Franks with the foundation to begin his quest for an All Blacks re-call, which may come as early as this July’s test series against Ireland.

Franks knows there’s plenty of work to be done before then, but he said he would “love to” play at a third World Cup next year in France.

Selection for that tournament would avenge his exclusion from the squad that travelled to Japan in 2019, and it might not be an unfeasible prospect given the current uncertainty surrounding the makeup of the All Blacks’ front row.

Few props are considered certainties to feature in Ian Foster’s upcoming national squad for the Irish series, and if Franks can string together a few convincing performances at the latter stage of the regular season and playoffs, he could well be in the mix.

First and foremost, though, Franks needs to take to the field for the Hurricanes and end his injury-induced spell on the sideline, something he is as motivated to do as he is to play for the All Blacks once more.

“Like any long-term injury, or back-to-back one, there are peaks and troughs, but I’m committed to coming back to New Zealand and giving it a crack, so that was always at the forefront of my mind,” he said.

“My motivation and drive never wavered. Like I said, have your ups and downs, but it’s all good.”

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