London Irish prop Ben Franks has used the Haka to inspire him to two World Cup winners’ medals, but now finds himself facing the famous challenge for the first time in Barbarians colours against New Zealand at Twickenham tomorrow.
Franks, whose brother Owen has missed the current European tour through injury, is taking a short break from trying to help Irish stay in the Premiership after returning to the top flight of English rugby this season. One win from seven games has left Irish just three points above bottom placed Worcester and they suffered a 44-13 loss at Saracens at the weekend.
Having swapped a Premiership survival fight to face the No1 team in the World, Franks is remarkably upbeat about his unique opportunity to see the Haka from opposition ranks in match to celebrate NZRU’s 125th anniversary. The 33-year-old, who joined Irish after winning his second World Cup in 2015, has amassed 47 caps and said:” I am keeping an open mind about facing the Haka and maybe it will all hit me when the anthem is played. It is a great opportunity to do something special; playing for an iconic team against the No1 team. I am sure after I finish playing I will look back at this game and think it was pretty cool to get this chance.
“I will probably just stand there for the haka and in high school rugby at home every school has a haka and it will be great to see the other side of the coin and experience what we have been doing while I was in the squad. I am really looking forward to it.”
“The step up to the Premiership is big and every week there have been parts of our game that have functioned well but we haven’t put in an 80 min performance often enough. We were right in it against Saracens for 60mins and then they showed in that last quarter what a class team they are what they can do to you. All we can do is keep working hard on areas of our game we need to improve. Set piece has been a strong point for us and now we need to get rid of these lapses that are hurting us.
“It was never going to be smooth sailing coming back up to the Premiership and after a lot of slow physicality in the Championship, the speed at which teams in the top flight can hurt you is right up there.”
England do not face the All Blacks until November next year, leading to plenty of conjecture about who would win a battle between the two top teams in the sport. Franks has played against England’s best players and while, as expected, he is backing the All Blacks he did admit: “I always get asked about the comparison and I would always want the All Blacks to come out winners but it will be a great game next year. England have made massive strides since the last World Cup and they have been pretty impressive.
“I am sure they have a lot of confidence and like so many people it is a game I just want to see and no one really knows what would happen. We don’t know how far England have come and are they still 20 per cent off as Eddie Jones says?
“When players move on after a World Cup there will be questions about who can replace the guys who have left but someone always stands up. The All Black player production factory has been working well.”