Owen Franks is renowned for his diligence and discipline when it comes to physical fitness. On his wedding day, so the story goes, the 108-cap tighthead prop mixed up a protein shake and asked his wife, Emma, to keep it in case he grew peckish during the speeches.

Alongside brother Ben, another All Black and now a club colleague at Northampton Saints, Franks co-authored a work-out book six years ago. He is slightly delayed in arriving for this interview because he has undergone a solo conditioning session on the training pitch behind Franklin's Gardens.

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Franks is clearly eager to hit the ground running in his Saints debut, which will come off the bench against a brawny, in-form Lyon side in the Champions Cup on Sunday.

"I want to be remembered as someone who came over here and delivered," he says.


"Sometimes Kiwis can get a bad rep after coming over here, being average and not making their mark.

"I really want to make my mark and be a proud part of this club's history."

Quite understandably, Franks is also spurred on by his surprise omission from Steve Hansen's Rugby World Cup squad.

New Zealand's head coach implied a lack of mobility as his rationale for the headline-grabbing decision to cull a veteran from the triumphant 2011 and 2015 tournaments, thus effectively ending a 10-year international career.

Franks admits it was "bittersweet" to watch the games but did so as a fan of the All Blacks and a friend to many squad members. Did it also feel slightly ironic, given Hansen's reasoning, that South Africa's dominant scrummaging ploughed the Springboks' path to victory?

"A little bit, yeah," Franks laughs. "In Test match rugby, those tough, top games are often won by big moments.

"You hear plenty of things about scrummaging and how it's becoming less important. That happens every few years, but you only need one destructive scrum to tip a game on its head. South Africa sniffed some blood and took it.

"It's a huge part of the game and I know some people don't like it but in that World Cup final you could see the influence it can have."

Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport
Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport

Chris Boyd, the New Zealander now into his second campaign as Northampton's director of rugby, admits that his eyes have been opened to a different dimension of set-piece play during his stint in England.

Saints are honing an attractive, fluid style of rugby, using the full width of the field with backs and forwards linking smoothly. Having reached the playoffs in 2018-19, they have scored 13 tries over three straight wins to begin this Premiership season.

Then, on a stodgy pitch in Bath last weekend, a familiar failing cropped up. The hosts squeezed Northampton at the scrum, eking out a flurry of penalties and prevailing 22-13.

"What I have discovered in the northern hemisphere," explains Boyd, "is that a lot of teams use the scrum not as an attacking launchpad but as a mechanism to extract a penalty and either kick at goal or kick to the corner and drive.

"I wouldn't belittle or down cry another organisation's methodology or gameplan around that but certainly there is no part of [Northampton's] game around trying to extract penalties. We are trying to play the game in a positive nature."

Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport
Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport

Franks will not automatically fix everything for Northampton. As Boyd says: "I don't know a lot about the dark arts of scrumming but I know that it's an eight-man gig." Even so, Saints' new signing exudes nous and know-how when he broaches the subject.

He is used to Boyd's philosophy from the All Blacks set-up – New Zealand's scrum has been a rock-solid platform for years – but will also bring aggression.

"At the Crusaders we had a really attacking mindset at the set piece and really tried to use it as a weapon.

"I suppose that was similar to over here. South African teams are the same, really trying to look for that dominance and obviously the Argentinians are as well.

"It does seem to be more attritional here because the Premiership is so close across the board.

"In Super Rugby there is maybe a bigger gap between the top teams and the lower ones. Here it seems that everyone is fighting for that inch."

It will be intriguing to monitor the progress of Ehren Painter, the 21 year-old tighthead nicknamed 'Big Rig' who started for England against the Barbarians last summer, under such a decorated mentor. Just do not expect Franks to be commandeering team meetings.

"My mindset at the start will be to earn the respect of my teammates through what I do on the field," he says. "I suppose maybe I can have a bit more influence later on once I've cut my teeth.

"The last thing I want to do is to come in from a different environment and start running my mouth, saying 'do things this way or that way'."

It does feel slightly jarring to hear an All Blacks centurion speak about cutting his teeth. Franks also stresses that he is "definitely not the finished product" and "still improving".

Such an attitude should be music to the ears of Saints supporters. Encouraged by father Ken, a CrossFit guru, Franks takes pride in the ethos that "as an athlete, your body is a business".

At 31, he embarks on a three-year contract and could become a cornerstone of success for a burgeoning Northampton squad. Franks is certainly used to silverware from his time with New Zealand and the Crusaders.

His wife and two boys will join him in Kingsthorpe, just outside Northampton, in time for Christmas.

Owen Franks with his family after the end of his career with Canterbury. Photo / Photosport
Owen Franks with his family after the end of his career with Canterbury. Photo / Photosport

"One of the great things about coming here from a young country like New Zealand is the history," Franks says of his new surroundings. "It blows my mind.

"There's a church behind my place and it was built in the 11th century. That's just unreal.

"I went to visit Towcester and was reading about the Romans settling there and then the Vikings and all the rest of it.

"It's all pretty cool stuff and I look forward to learning a bit more about the place."

A history enthusiast, Franks wants to feature prominently in a strong period for Northampton. His storied professionalism should give him a good chance of achieving that.

So, is the tale about the protein shake at the wedding true? "Yeah," admits Franks, with a wide smile. "F--- yeah."