It was sad to see 108-test stalwart Owen Franks fail to make the All Blacks 2019 Rugby World Cup squad but selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox deserve plaudits for making a brave decision.
At 31, the 117kg tighthead prop is no longer the player he was. He’s still a strong scrummager, valuable lineout lifter and solid tackler. But he lacks the mobility required of a modern-day international prop.
Still, he has given tremendous service anchoring the scrum, having filled the big boots left by Carl Hayman’s decision to chase the big bucks abroad rather than hang on for the 2011 Webb Ellis Cup.
It was typical of Franks’ personality that he took his culling on the chin and had no gripe at the selectors preference for Nepo Laulala and Angus Ta’avao. For him, the team has always come first.
Whether it will retain the Webb Ellis Cup by making it three in a row is a moot point following the improvement made by England, South Africa, Wales and Ireland. And don’t write off Australia who beat the All Blacks 47-26 before the men in black avenged that loss 36-0.
This coming World Cup in Japan looks likely to be the hardest fought yet with so many teams capable of beating the other and the increased number of yellow and red cards given by referees making upsets more common.
I applaud the selectors decision to reward loose forward Luke Jacobson’s strong Super Rugby season with an All Black jersey.
While the team is well served for loosies with Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Matt Todd all class players, workaholic Jacobson is the future being strong on attack and defence. Pakuranga supporters will be disappointed Dalton Papali’i didn’t make it but he is another youngster with a bright future ahead of him.
Keeping faith with out of form wings Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith was also a good decision given their past record. However they will need to return to their best to regain their places for the big games ahead of George Bridge and Sevu Reece who starred in the walloping of the Wallabies.
It was in that game that injury prone Sonny Bill Williams convinced the selectors to pick him despite playing so little rugby over the past three years.
Successful coach Hansen places great store on experience and Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown are other midfielders not lacking in it.
Meanwhile Brodie Retallick’s slow healing shoulder injury is likely to keep him sidelined until the World Cup sudden death phase and Richie Mo’unga is unlikely to be risked against Tonga in Hamilton on Saturday.
Meanwhile congratulation to Howick for beating Mount Albert to win Auckland Rugby League’s Fox Memorial Cup final in a rousing good game at Mt Smart Stadium to add to their Rukutai Shield success for having won the minor premiership.
It was a great effort with a fit, lively Howick side playing smart attacking footy and defending stoutly to win Auckland’s premier club league crown for a second time.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer.