Ben Franks wants off Crusaders' books

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012
Ben Franks
CARYS MONTEATH/Fairfax NZ
OUT: Ben Franks has asked for a release from the Crusaders.

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Ben Franks has asked for a release from the Crusaders as younger brother Owen threatens to stymie his All Blacks career.

Prop Ben Franks, who can play both sides of the scrum, is being targeted by the Highlanders.

And because he wants to play solely at tighthead prop - the same position that All Blacks and Crusaders team-mate Owen plays in- he may consider moving south.

Ben Franks, who recently signed a two-year contract with Canterbury after transferring from Tasman, is contracted to the Crusaders until the end of next season. The franchise would release him if another team was prepared to accept his All Blacks retainer - a substantial amount - as part of their wage bill.

If they won't then Ben Franks will remain in Christchurch.

Although he could not be contacted yesterday, it is understood that Franks' request has been fuelled by the International Rugby Board's impending rule change which will allow an extra specialist prop to be carried on the bench later this year.

If that change is successful it will be used in the Super Rugby competition.

Owen - who at 24 is four years younger than Ben - is rated as New Zealand's top tighthead.

It is understood that the relationship between Ben and the Crusaders is good.

No-one at the Crusaders was available to comment.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is looking for experienced tight forwards and may be interested in the Melbourne-born Ben Franks to join All Blacks team-mate Andrew Hore (hooker) and former international Jamie Mackintosh (prop) in the front row.

Chris King, who is sitting out Southland's NPC campaign, has played both sides for the Highlanders, and Ma'afu Fia and Bronson Murray were also tighthead options this season.

The Chiefs have groomed rookie Ben Tameifuna at tighthead under forwards coach Tom Coventry, while the Blues have Charlie Faumuina. Both are fringe All Blacks. The Hurricanes relied on the likes of Ben May.

In recent seasons the Crusaders have employed a rotation scheme among their three All Blacks props of Wyatt Crockett and the Franks brothers. Ben Franks has always been highly valued because of his unique ability to play both sides of the scrum.

However, unlike Crockett, who welcomed the mooted IRB change because it can extend a test career affected by the presence of specialist loosehead Tony Woodcock, he has had little to celebrate.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is likely to prefer specialist props on his bench and to improve his value Ben Franks will want to earn maximum starting time in the No 3 jersey.

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Although the Crusaders' prop rotation policy has worked there is a feeling the players prefer to fight for regular starts to keep their edge. And with the Crusaders' coaches searching for answers after having failed to win a Super title since 2008 they may want their props to scrap for starting spots to give them a harder edge.

If Ben Franks does leave it will require the Crusaders to sign at least one new prop. Southland's Nick Barrett was carried as their fourth prop but didn't start a match in two seasons.

- The Press

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