Rugby: Owen Franks the odd man out for vital clash

Owen Franks. File photo / NZPA
Owen Franks. File photo / NZPA

Owen Franks is the unlucky Crusaders' prop this time around - he will start the semifinal against the Chiefs from the discomfort of the reserves bench - but scrum coach Dave Hewett says Franks was part of the decision process.

Hewett today revealed that the three Crusaders' props, Owen and Ben Franks and Wyatt Crockett, all of whom are All Blacks, decided early in the season that they wanted a rotation selection policy in which they were all guaranteed regular game time.

Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when Owen, a specialist tighthead prop and the only incumbent All Black among the trio, was named on the bench for the crucial Waikato Stadium match, with Ben, who can play both sides of the scrum, and Crockett, a specialist loosehead, getting the nod.

But Hewett said it was no reflection of form, merely the continuing of a pre-determined selection process.

"We had a plan for the round-robin matches and that was revised for the playoffs," he said. "The three props we have are all All Blacks and all want to play. One of them was going to be disappointed but that was the way they wanted it. All three had a part to play in the decision."

The starting props for last weekend's qualifier victory over the Bulls were Crockett and Owen Franks. The starting pair for the last game against the Chiefs - a win in Hamilton on July 6 and a match in which the Crusaders exerted a lot of pressure in the scrum - were the Franks brothers.

All three are regarded as integral to the success of the Crusaders' set piece and there really is very little between them, although Crockett and Ben Franks might have the edge on Owen around the field these days. Last season Owen's defence was at its confrontational best, but he seems to have dropped off a little in that aspect this year.

The short turnaround time from the Bulls match on Saturday means the Crusaders have had only one training session to prepare for Friday night's game. The Chiefs, on the other hand, had a weekend bye by virtue of finishing second on the table.

Hewett said the Crusaders packed down only about a dozen scrums in training today, but at this stage of the season there was no point in flogging a forward pack with endless scrums.

"We know it's important but you can't get too carried away with it," he said. "Other areas of the game are important too."

Hewett was expecting a few changes to the Chiefs' game plan given the added time they have had to prepare, but said the Hamilton-based side would probably base a lot of their game on what had worked for them this season.

"They've had time to analyse us and other things around their game, including their lineout and backs. We're expecting new stuff and hopefully we'll be ready for it."

Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Richie McCaw (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Ben Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Owen Franks, Tom Donnelly, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Sean Maitland.

- APNZ

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