Major milestone beckons for reserved All Black centurion
Pressure mounting on Cheika in advance of Australia’s daunting visit to Eden Park
Owen Franks: will become the ninth player to achieve 100 caps for the All Blacks when they take on Australia at Eden Park in Auckland. Photograph: David Neilson/Inpho
New Zealand v Australia, Eden Park, Auckland, 8.35am Irish time (Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Action)
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,” said Hansen. “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 240kg 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 per cent certain the caterers would have enough food so I pre-packaged a protein shake to make sure I wouldn’t get hungry during the speeches.”
Already under pressure to stave off yet another Bledisloe Cup series defeat, Australia have their backs to the wall as concerns grow about their direction heading into next year’s World Cup.
The world champions enter the Rugby Championship game (7.35 GMT), which doubles as the second match in the Bledisloe series, as firm favourites. If the Wallabies are to stand any chance of winning they must make significant improvements from the game in Sydney, a defeat that sparked an outpouring of frustration in Australia, as well as calls for coach Michael Cheika’s head.
“Surely Cheika cannot survive,” prominent Australian rugby journalist Greg Growden wrote on ESPN this week.
“If Rugby Australia is serious about a productive 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign as well as regaining the faith of thousands of disenchanted Wallabies supporters, they must get rid of Cheika, and all of his back-up coaching and managerial staff now. “Not at the end of the year, or after the World Cup. Right now.”
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt).
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown
AUSTRALIA: Dane Haylett-Petty; Jack Maddocks, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Allan Alaalatoa; Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman; Lukhan Tui, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock.
Replacements: Folau Faingaa, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Tom Banks