- Franks on life in English rugby's second tier
- Double World Cup winner on playing for London Irish
Ben Franks is part of a very select group of 20 players to have won the World Cup on two occasions – and an even smaller group of just one to have also featured in the Greene King IPA Championship.
The 32-year-old prop made his last appearance for the All Blacks at Twickenham last October – coming off the bench as they claimed a second successive world crown beating Australia in the final.
From there his attention switched to London Irish but an injury-disrupted campaign saw him watching on helplessly as the Exiles were relegated into the second flight.
Franks had the option to get out of his contract, but the front-rower had arrived in England with the objective of making an impact and he had no intention of going back on that.
Double World Champion in the Championship
Make an impact he most certainly has, with Irish currently flying high in the league with nine wins from nine and 44 points from a possible 45.
Franks has been a key part of that and the Exiles pack represents a formidable challenge for all-comers with a 47-cap All Black anchoring the scrum at tighthead."It’s been going well and every week we seem to be getting better."
And for Franks, relieved of his international commitments, a first proper off-season in a decade has been a large part of his strong start to the campaign.
“I’d not had a pre-season since I was 23 so it’s made a world of difference,” Franks told England Rugby.
“I had the chance to get away from rugby over the summer and come back in refreshed.
“It meant I had my first family holiday in forever, we went to Malta which was great, and then coming back we were able to explore London.
“I was still doing some work to ensure I was in good shape heading into the season and I was looking forward to those pre-season sessions.
“It’s been going well and every week we seem to be getting better.”
Franks’ arrival in England culminated in a busy period for the family. His wife Jenna gave birth to their second child – son Benson who is nine months old.
Along with daughter Annabel, 5, the quartet have taken advantage of the chance to travel in Europe, while this week Franks caught up with younger brother Owen – another member of the double World Cup-winning club."Growing up in New Zealand I only ever wanted to play for the All Blacks."
The pair started a gym back in Christchurch in 2009, run by dad Ken, and chat weekly. And in a parallel universe they could even have been turning out for the Red Rose rather than the Silver Fern as Franks’ mum Julie was born in England.
“We have quite a few members of the family over here and my mum was born over here,” he said.
“Most of the family are around Birmingham although I don’t really know them, having lived over in New Zealand.
“People have mentioned before that I could have played for England, but growing up in New Zealand I only ever wanted to play for the All Blacks. And of course who’s to say I would have been picked if I’d been over here.
“It’s been full-on since we arrived, it’s already been a year since the World Cup. I’ve been able to stay in touch with people back in New Zealand though, and speak to my brother most weeks.
“I’m less involved in the day-to-day side of running the gym, my dad does a lot of that, but we still catch up.
“And I got to see him this week with New Zealand over for their Tour.”
Europe compared to Down Under
So what’s been the biggest change for Franks since he swapped Wellington for Sunbury?
According to Franks it’s the sheer history and proximity of the continent that is such a culture shock – but one he is relishing.
“I’ve loved the chance to travel and visit places since I’ve been over here and I like to take every opportunity I have to explore,” he said."From a rugby perspective I didn’t expect to be playing in the Championship, but things are going well at the club this season."
“When you compare to New Zealand, it’s just such a new country so there just isn’t the same history.
“Here there are so many things to see around England, I went over to Dublin a couple of weeks ago, and you can even hop on a plane to Amsterdam or somewhere else in Europe.
“Everything is so different. In New Zealand the closest place is Australia which is three or four hours away, and even that’s quite similar.
“That was one of the big reasons I wanted to come over, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
“From a rugby perspective I didn’t expect to be playing in the Championship, but things are going well at the club this season.
“There are some former players at Irish now on the coaching staff with Brendan Venter, Nick Kennedy, Declan Danaher, and it makes you realise how much it means to them.
“My aim now is to help Irish get promoted back to the Premiership and hopefully in a position to compete at that level again.”