Franks declares himself battle-ready for Blues

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013
Owen Franks
Getty
MUSCLING UP: All Blacks and Crusaders prop Owen Franks reckons he is ready for the hard yards when the Crusaders take on the Blues on Friday in Auckland.

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Injury and just 60 minutes of pre-season duty won't be considered valid reasons to scratch Owen Franks from Friday night's match against the Blues.

Sightings of Franks during the Crusaders' pre-season fixtures have been scarce but to suggest he won't last the full 80 minutes at Eden Park, or he gives his 118kg chassis another week to prepare for the rigours of Super Rugby, doesn't go down well.

"I can't see why I can't play 80 - I will be doing my best to," tighthead prop Franks said. "I did a lot of work in the pre-season before I met up with the Crusaders, with weights and aerobic running. I've been working hard. Obviously the coaches will be making the decision but I think I can do it."

Franks has made just two appearances this year; 20 minutes against the Hurricanes on February 2 and 40 minutes for the Crusaders Knights against the Highlanders development team last Saturday.

Considering the way the Blues upset the Hurricanes 34-20 last Friday night, Franks' declaration will ease the concerns of some Crusaders' supporters.

With Ben Franks now playing for the Hurricanes the Crusaders can no longer call on another All Black if younger brother Owen or Wyatt Crockett are hurt.

Instead their options are the raw Nepo Laulala, who coach Todd Blackadder is grooming as his second-strong tighthead, while specialist loosehead Crockett is also continuing his apprenticeship in the No 3 jersey.

Given the way the Blues diligently utilised their possession and involved Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and George Moala to carry out wide, there will be anxiety among the Crusaders as they head to Auckland.

Losing loosehead prop Tony Woodcock did little to undermine the Blues' scrum and Franks wasn't startled to see the northern franchise, a demoralised rabble under Pat Lam last year, are proving competitive under John Kirwan and his "technical adviser" Graham Henry.

"They were explosive. I wasn't really surprised," Franks said.

"They overcame some adversity and have obviously got some quality coaches. And there is no doubt they are motivated after what happened last year."

Following the 2011 World Cup win there was an expectation Franks would continue his rise as one of the world's premier front rowers. Instead his form waned.

It was steady without being spectacular as it appeared the constant grind had of the professional circuit dulled his edge. Winning a title has also eluded the 25-year-old who made his Crusaders debut in 2009, the year after they won the last of their seven titles.

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He has not been deaf to the speculation that the Crusaders, without Richie McCaw until at least July, have lost their aura.

"I guess we have to get a little bit tougher, a little bit smarter in those really high-pressure situations where we have got to make the plays well and execute well.

"In the media it seems as if everything is going wrong for the Crusaders but for the last four years we have made the playoffs and a final.

"It's about remaining cool under pressure but having the fire in the heart."

HOLLAND POISED

Former Munster player and backs coach Jason Holland is poised be the new Canterbury assistant coach. Holland, a former Manawatu representative who left New Zealand in 1999 after failing to be recognised by the Hurricanes, will assist new head coach Scott Robertson during this year's NPC campaign.

It is understood the Canterbury Rugby Football Union will announce Holland's appointment once the final paperwork has been completed. Having left New Zealand to play for an amateur club in Ireland, Holland was later picked up for a low fee by Munster and earned 102 caps for the Irish club which went on to become one of the powerhouses of European rugby.

Robertson has replaced Tabai Matson who has joined the Crusaders' coaching staff this year. CRFU chief executive Hamish Riach, currently in Brazil, and Robertson were unavailable for comment yesterday but it is believed Holland will arrive in Christchurch around April. After his playing career with Munster ended Holland was later involved as a video analyst and backs coach.

He vacated the position when Rob Penney replaced former head coach Tony McGahan last year. Former Canterbury head coach Penney appointed former All Blacks and Wellington first-five Simon Mannix as his backs coach.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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