Big Ben hits 100-game milestone

Major milestone: Ben Franks is playing his 100th Super Rugby match  in Cape Town today.
Major milestone: Ben Franks is playing his 100th Super Rugby match in Cape Town today.

Robbie Dean was right on two counts.

Eight years ago he handed a 21-year-old prop his Super Rugby debut and told him to cherish every moment because his rugby career would fly by in the blink of an eye.

Ben Franks turned out to be a solid selection and as he ran on to Newlands this morning for his 100th Super Rugby cap his old coach's words were still ringing true.

"I remember Robbie Deans saying just be patient because things in rugby happen really quickly and that's definitely true because it feels like the other day I was starting out," Franks said before the Hurricanes played the Stormers in Cape Town. "Robbie always said, 'make the most of your opportunities because your rugby career just goes like that', and that's true too.

"I suppose if I could go back and give myself some advice I'd just say 'make the most of your opportunities and enjoy your rugby', and I think I've done that for the most part."

Franks considers himself fortunate, but his rugby longevity has been born of the hard work and dedication that started in the Port Hills, near Christchurch, before it flourished on the rugby field and in the gym.

"I think I was lucky Dad [Ken] took an interest in Crossfit when I was young. I remember when we first moved to Christchurch, when I was 13, I started running the hills and Dad helped us out from there.

"The Crossfit stuff really helped my body in later years when I started coming into rugby. It gave me an advantage because naturally I wasn't a big guy, or athletic compared to a lot of guys running around, but by the time I was a professional I had five or six years of hard training under my belt.

"That hardens the tendons and the body and I haven't had a lot of the muscle strains and tears a lot of guys get if they've only had a couple of years leading in. I think that's helped a lot along the way."

In fact, Franks has been remarkably injury free in an era where players' are being pushed ever closer to their physical limits.

"I've been really fortunate. Sometimes there's a bit of luck in not getting a serious injury. I haven't had anything apart from the usual bangs a couple of weeks here and there," he said.

"In 2009 I had a fracture in my foot that kept me out half that season, but outside that I've stayed on the field. I like to think the training I've done has helped me along the way."

His relentless attitude and passion for the game has helped too.

"It's a great effort," Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said. "He's sort of like a guy who has become the conscience of this side and the great strength about Franksy is he's not scared to front when things aren't going well.

"If he feels the group is not fronting as it should be he'll let people know both individually and as a group, but he's also very good when things are going well, so he's not just the angry cop all the time ... he's great for this group and it was the reason I got him in a few years ago. Simply for that [attitude], because it's certainly one of his greatest strengths."

As is Franks almost obsessive dedication to health and fitness.

"It's hard to explain unless you are around him all the time, but he's the most organised rugby player I've ever worked with down to his diet, his knowing exactly how many calories are going in and coming out and the recovery processes," Hammett said.

"Also what he invests in his own body. He's never expected it from the club he's playing for. He goes about it himself. He's spent time in other sports paid for it himself to learn in that area of life."

That's extended to now co-owning and running Franks Brothers chain of gyms with his fellow All Black brother Owen and their father.

Today will have been an awkward one for a player who doesn't exactly scream from the rooftops about his successes.

Earlier today the 29-year-old was presented with a commemorative jersey and, as is Hurricanes tradition for such milestones, surrounded by his team-mates as they watched a DVD of highlights stretching back to his Crusaders debut.

"He's a guy who won't want ceremony, but that's too bad, he'll get it," Hammett said.

When Franks gets home he'll fold his jersey up and put it in one of the bags that includes those worn during his 31 All Blacks tests and many from a Super Rugby career that began as a replacement against the Chiefs, in Hamilton, in 2006.

"It seems like the other day that happened. I just remember coming on the second half and I think the first thing I did was have a scrum. Before I knew it the game was over.

"I've still got that used jersey with all my other jerseys. They're locked away safe in a bag and one day when I'm retired I suppose I can get them out and hang them in a room or something.

"I try not to look back on stuff too much because with rugby it moves pretty fast so I always look forward."

And Franks is adamant he's not even close to letting go of what he considers a dream job.

"When I look back on 100 games the most important thing is I was able to stay at a reasonably high level. You don't get to 100 games without achieving that, so that's something I cherish the most.

"I couldn't play this sport without passion. I couldn't do the things you need to do like put your body in those dark places if I didn't have that. I'm a different player to what I started at 21. Things change along the way, but ... I'm still enjoying my rugby.

"The day that changes, which I can't see [yet], I'll hang up the boots. But I think the body will give out before the enjoyment level gives out."

The Dominion Post