Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Franks the anchor as scrum goes full steam ahead

When coaches search for tighthead props they want men with an unbending spirit, blokes who are the rock on the right side of the scrum.

That All Black is Owen Franks, the prop whose massive jersey carries the No3 and hides the tattoo of a huge anchor.

Franks has been in a decent selection tussle with rising prop Charlie Faumuina but has kept forging on with the relentless purpose which marks his attitude to fitness and the game.

By many measures he is a beast in the gym, someone who has an unbending passion to push himself and make sure his frame stays as strong and protected as he can make it.

He will rumble on to Twickenham tomorrow for the final battle of the All Blacks' 2012 campaign and his personal scrum confrontation with Alex Corbisiero.

They are men of similar age and statistics though Franks has more than double Corbisiero's caps.

That is of no consequence to Franks. In his mind, Corbisiero and England bring a powerful scrum combination which will test the All Black group to their limits. "They have had their men in their setup for a while. Corbisiero sets up low and gets a good angle to attack from loosehead and can be quite destructive," he said.

Scrums were a sport within the game in Europe, the frothing, combined power of 900kg trying to destabilise each other.

"They scrum for longer over here and they are always looking for that scrum when they can march you for 10 metres and get a penalty. You always have to have that in the back of your mind," Franks said.

"Often in the Super 15 and stuff we are just catering for the backs and making sure we give them good ball.

"But here if the scrum can do the job, they are happy to keep the ball in so it means you have to be really sharp and able to scrum for longer."

The soon to be 25-year-old was impressed by the All Blacks scrum work against Scotland, Italy and Wales but believed there were not many top teams who did not have a competent scrum. "It's an area of the game we have been pleased with. The ball our backs have been getting has been a pretty good indicator of the way we are going."

When Franks started his test career, he was content to be picked and do what he was told. Now he hauls his 119kg chassis around fields with more stamina than he had at the start of his career. And he loves it.

"It is awesome to be playing this style of rugby properly but it does not come without a lot of hard work in the background. It is not just the fact that we say we want to play that way, there is a lot of work to get us to be able to do it. A lot of time and physical preparation is spent covering off all your roles."

Preparation had to be logical and methodical, each task checked and ticked off against the fitness and team requirements.

That was all part of the buildup which allowed Franks to loom up in midfield and sling away an effective pass in the buildup to Liam Messam's wondrous team try against Wales.

"Five years ago, I think I had the skill but whether I would have got there I don't know.

"The biggest improvement in my game has been fitness, especially in the second half of this year, little things like getting off the ground so you can hit the next ruck or make another tackle," Franks said.

"Whenever you are on the ground it's dead time and your team needs you to be involved."

The revamped coaching group had challenged the squad hard and ramped up the competition for starting places.

"There is a lot of pressure and you work really hard but there is a really fun environment too. We have had a lot of tough games but it has all been great."

Sightseeing has got a run, too, with Franks blown away by the Colosseum on his first trip to Rome.

Discovering 30,000 people died in the first few months of combat at the arena sharpened his focus, just like an 81,000 crowd, Corbisiero and England will do tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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