As the usual tweaks are made to the All Blacks side for the second Bledisloe Cup test – one almost constant presence over the past nine years is preparing for a significant milestone.

With Ryan Crotty and Rieko Ioane both out injured, Hurricanes backs Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett make their way into the starting line-up for the clash with the Wallabies in Auckland.

In the forwards, though, the same eight men will try and help seal the Bledisloe for a 16th straight year.

And the same man who has carried out arguably the sport’s toughest job – will join one of its most elite clubs.

Owen Franks will play his 100th Test, becoming just the ninth All Black centurion.

The Franks family aren’t prone to the soppy stuff.

Owen Franks admits older brother and former All Blacks prop Ben – had made an effort to convey his congratulations.

“I did actually get a text from him something along the lines of he was proud of me and then he said don’t text back as it’ll be awkward… that’s probably the most emotional he’s ever got and I actually sent back a smiley face so yeh that was quite funny.”

While his older brother preferred the short and sweet method, Franks’ team-mates and coaches offered more insight into his immense durability.

Beauden Barrett lauded the tighthead prop as the squad’s most professional member, while meticulous preparation and dedication to his body were constant themes.

Commitment to his career – as coach Steve Hansen noted – is something Franks takes very, very seriously.

“He’s a hundred and twenty percenter, not many people would go to their wedding and get their wife to have a protein shake in their pocket.”

Franks happily admits he doesn’t leave things to chance when it comes to food.

And after 89 starts in an All Blacks jersey, the same goes for looking after his robust 30-year-old frame.

“I do some stretching, I wouldn’t call it yoga as I’m not into the spiritual side of it and I don’t know the names of the poses, but when you first start it’s funny you go to the gym and just rip into the weights and as you get older your body gets stiffer you have to grease the joints.”

A lack of yoga vernacular isn’t a surprise for a man who uses words only when they’re an absolute necessity.

But as All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor recounts of his first training alongside Franks, that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt.

“Yeh he was a pretty intimidating man and when I first come in to be honest, I actually saw him have a punch up with his own brother at training which I was blown away by as this guy doesn’t take a backward step to even his own blood, so that was pretty impressive and it sort of set the standard of what he’s about.”

It’s a standard Franks has not only maintained – but lifted – as he has morphed from a master of the dark arts into a ball-playing prop – happy to plonk himself in the middle of the world’s best backline.

Barrett says Franks’ place in the squad – and on the team bus – is as clear cut as it gets.

“He’s our back seat man, there’s no rubbish with Owey it’s just straight up and down, black and white you don’t want to cross with him and he’s a very good man at the same time, if you get the chance to sit down and chat with him, he’s a great human.”

For all that, there remains one way in which Franks is yet to contribute.

After 99 tests, he is yet to crash over the try-line for the All Blacks.

A remarkable statistic, but not one – Hansen says – the man himself is sweating on.

“He doesn’t see himself as a try scorer, he sees himself as someone who lifts in the lineout, who pushes in the scrum, cleans out in the breakdown and catches and passes when he has to and if he scored a try I’m sure he’d be chuffed but if he doesn’t score one then he’ll have another record anyway so he can’t lose can he….. you’re right, he doesn’t give a stuff.”

As long as the scrum is straight and solid, and his team comes out on the winning side – Owen Franks should be able to to squeeze out a smile as he trudges off Eden Park – officially – an All Black centurion.

-RNZ

 

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