It's easy to get the wrong impression of Owen Franks' season so far. This fearsome ball of flesh has at times appeared to be less fearsome than in the past. His trademark crushing tackles haven't been conspicuous, his scrummaging not so obviously destructive and his ball-carrying not quite so 'white rhino'.
The abiding memory of Franks in late 2010 through 2011 was of him smashing anything and everything that came within arm's reach. A few outside backs made the mistake of thinking they could dance past him - only once.
Franks hasn't made that same indelible imprint in 2012 and it has led some to wonder why not. That's inevitably the way it is these days; once the benchmark is set, the critics can be unforgiving if they don't think it is being met. But the analysis has to move beyond the superficial and, while Franks has not shone out on the open as much in 2012, his work has been no less effective.
His statistics are impressive and support his contention that his work rate is better than it's ever been; his general contribution as sharp and aggressive as always.
All season, be it with the Crusaders or All Blacks, Franks scores well on his ability to get to rucks first and his tackle count. His game is in fact in rude health.
At the core of this young man is a ferocious dedication to be the best. His appetite for hard work is relentless. No one is in the gym earlier, takes training more seriously, or works quite as hard as he does.
Driving him through the endless hours of toil is this insatiable desire to be an All Black - to be making his presence felt in his beloved No3 jersey.
"I think it is business as usual," he says. "I think the game in Sydney was one of my highest work rate games in my career. On defence, I certainly got through a fair bit of work."
To doubt his performance is to doubt his commitment and he's not really the sort of bloke anyone would want to inadvertently rile.
The referee in Sydney, Alain Rolland, probably managed to do just that with his incessant whistling, particularly his ability to find fault with the scrummaging. That prevented the contest from developing but it also had another less appreciated side-effect. When the All Blacks encounter a pedantic referee and an opponent like the Wallabies, whom they suspect are going to look to avoid a head-on contest by devious means, they tend to hold back.
If they unleash the full force of their scrummaging power, history has shown them it can be counterproductive. Opponents tend to collapse, try to con the referee and invariably the All Blacks are deemed the guilty party. To the untrained eye, it can be interpreted as a quiet scrummaging night. But for those in the front row, who know the skill required to be so disciplined, it's a different story.
Still, it's fairly obvious Franks would like things to be overtly dominant; he'd rather the world could see his contribution and that of the pack in more obvious terms. That may well come deeper into the championship. Franks was carefully managed with the Crusaders and feels he has plenty left in the tank.
"I didn't play as many minutes as usual [with the Crusaders] but I was still involved in every game," said Franks. "I would say my body is in good shape and I'm pretty excited about playing well in this championship."By Gregor Paul Email Gregor