Owen Franks left out of New Zealand World Cup squad
Hansen instead opts for youth and mobility in likes of Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao
Captain Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks at the World Cup in Japan. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Sentimentality has been cast aside in the name of speed as veteran prop Owen Franks was omitted from the All Blacks squad named to defend the Rugby World Cup in Japan. A veteran of 108 Tests, Franks has paid for deteriorating form this year and won’t contest his third tournament, having being part of the victorious teams of 2011 and 2015.
It means just three players – captain Kieran Read, inside centre Sonny Bill Williams and lock Sam Whitelock – are in contention to become the first players to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time.
Coach Steve Hansen has leaned on youth and mobility in some of his more contestable selections. Props Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao have played just nine Tests between them but their athleticism is deemed to be an intrinsic part of a high-paced New Zealand game plan.
“Unfortunately as the three selectors, we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile No 1s and No 3s,” Hansens said. “And in this case we feel the guys we’ve named are more so than he [Franks], therefore we had to make a tough decision. Obviously he’s very disappointed, but I won’t go into details about what was said. I’m very respectful of how he coped with it, it’s a mark of the man.”
There is also a surprise in the loose forward mix, where three openside flankers are named while Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson is included for his versatility. Jacobson’s only Test came off the bench against Argentina last month but he has seen off more established blindside flanker performers such as Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell and Liam Squire.
There was uncertainty around Squire, who had made himself unavailable for the Rugby Championship Tests for personal reasons. Hansen said Squire had become available and there was an understanding the tough forward would be on injury standby for the tournament.
Brodie Retallick is included despite recovering from a shoulder dislocation that leaves him at long odds to face South Africa in their opening pool match at Yokohama on September 21st. The world-class lock may also struggle to play subsequent games against Canada, Namibia and Italy.
“We don’t expect him to play in the round robin but we’re reasonably sure we should make the quarter-finals, and from there we don’t know,” Hansen said. “We’ve rolled the dice to take him for that quarter-final and we’ll take it from there.”
There are just two specialist five-eighths named, with Hansen banking on Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga enjoying an injury-free run. He said three players with the ability to fill in at pivot if needed are Jordie Barrett, Ryan Crotty and TJ Perenara.
Hurricanes star Ngani Laumape is an unfortunate omission, with four quality midfield backs named ahead of him.
New Zealand squad for 2019 World Cup
Backs: Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.
Forwards: Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Atu Moli, Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman.