After 108 tests, Owen Franks’ tenure as the All Blacks’ incumbent tighthead prop has come to an abrupt end.
The 31-year-old was a shock omission from the All Blacks’ 31-man squad to challenge for the Rugby World Cup, with Chiefs trio Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao joining Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi in the front row stocks.
One of the most tightly contested positions in the squad, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said it was an unsurprisingly tough decision to make.
“He is one of the great All Blacks,” Hansen said of Franks. “He’s certainly shown true character. His professionalism on and off the field has been magnificent over the years, he’s played over 100 tests.
“Unfortunately, we as the three selectors, we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile No1s and No3s and in this case we just think the other guys that we’ve named are more so than he and therefore we had to make a tough decision.”
Tuungafasi and Ta’avao, in particular, showed their ability to run the football throughout the Super Rugby season, with Tuungafasi taking the most runs of any tighthead prop in the competition.
Tuungafasi, Ta’avao and Moli can all play on both sides of the scrum, while Moody and Laulala are likely to draw starting roles at loosehead and tighthead respectively.
Hansen said the phone call to Franks to deliver the news wasn’t easy, but credited the veteran with how he handled to decision.
“Obviously he’s very disappointed, but I won’t go into details about what we said or anything, but we’re very respectful of how he coped with it and, again, it’s a mark of the man.”
Hansen said over the last couple of months the team had been working at getting their game plans sorted while the selectors had been using the games to get greater clarity around the selection of the team.
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