WELLINGTON • For almost a decade he was the backbone of the All Blacks scrum and then, cruelly, he was not a part of it.
Owen Franks' 108 tests at tight-head prop and his two world titles were not enough to earn him a seat on New Zealand's plane to Japan next month for what would have been his third Rugby World Cup.
When coach Steve Hansen read out his 31-man squad, Franks' omission was a shock. The 31-year-old paid the price for a poor season with the Canterbury Crusaders before signing for English Premiership side Northampton Saints.
He planned to retire after the Cup but the All Blacks coach brought forward the moment of parting when he telephoned Franks to tell him his international career was over.
Before announcing his squad yesterday, Hansen said those calls to players who had not been selected were "the toughest part of the job" and described Franks as "one of the great All Blacks".
He said: "Unfortunately, we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile No. 1s and No. 3s and, in this case, we feel the guys we've named are more so than he. We had to make a tough decision.
"I'm very respectful of how he coped with it, it's a mark of the man."
Franks' omission eclipsed the other hard call the 60-year-old had to make. He chose not to select back-rower Liam Squire who missed most of the Super Rugby season because of injury, then chose not to play in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup because his fitness was not up to it.
NEW ZEALAND'S RUGBY WORLD CUP 2019 SQUAD
Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, T.J. Perenara, Brad Weber
Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Atu Moli, Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman
He has been playing in the National Provincial Championship but will have to make do as a standby for those called up.
The other tough call was on centre Ngani Laumape, who was left out in a tight contest for midfield places, with Sonny Bill Williams, 34, preferred for his third Cup.
Hansen also doubled down on his "high risk, high reward" selection strategy, bringing just Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett as specialist fly halves which raised some eyebrows.
With Barrett playing the last three tests at fullback and Mo'unga in the No. 10 in a dual playmaker strategy, both are likely to be heavily involved throughout, leaving the team short if one of them is injured.
Hansen said he has three possible backups: "Jordie Barrett we think can play there, T.J. (Perenara) we know can play there and Ryan Crotty spent a lot of time playing first-five as a young player."
He had the happier duty of telling several youngsters they had made the cut, with the biggest surprise being Luke Jacobson at the age of 22, who took Squire's place.
The coach said of Jacobson: "His defensive work is outstanding, his ability to get into the ruck and cause havoc there is outstanding and he's a good ball carrier."
There was slight surprise in the selection of the veteran lock Brodie Retallick, who has been out with a serious shoulder injury that might not allow him to play until the knockout rounds.
New Zealand, captained by Kieran Read, will try to become the first team to win three World Cups in a row.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS