Dual World Cup winning All Black Owen Franks will don the Canterbury jersey for the first time in three years for the NPC opener against Manawatū on Friday night.
The 108-test prop is back in the red-and-black front row after leaving for English club Northampton Saints in 2019.
Franks, 34, has been named to start at tighthead for Canterbury’s visit to Palmerston North.
Canterbury’s new head coach Marty Bourke welcomed the return of Franks, who made his Canterbury debut in 2007.
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“With Fletcher[(Newell] called into the ABs and a couple of injuries, we were on the lookout for another prop, so to have a guy like Owey available is fantastic,” Bourke said.
“He still has ambitions of his own, so if we’re able to provide that opportunity, then that’s really exciting.”
Super Rugby and test commitments meant Franks played just 24 games for Canterbury over a 12-year period, but he turned out 153 times for the Crusaders.
He played Super Rugby for the Hurricanes this year, but an injury forced a later start to the season.
Franks, who has gym business interests in Christchurch, has reportedly not given up on adding to his tests tally.
Franks bookends a Canterbury pack containing Crusaders Super Rugby champions Brodie McAllister, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace and Zach Gallagher and captain Billy Harmon and lock Sam Darry, who played for the Highlanders and Blues respectively.
Former England halfback Willi Heinz – who last played for Canterbury in 2014 – has been named on the bench for his first first-class game in New Zealand since returning to club rugby with Linwood after stints with English clubs Gloucester and Worcester.
Heinz and seasoned Crusaders halfback Mitchell Drummond will team with young first five eighth Fergus Burke and Alex Harford, who will come off the bench.
“Drummy and Willi are ultra-competitive, but they bring a real level of calmness to our side too, they’ve both got a wealth of big game experience, so we’re excited to see it all come together,” Bourke said.
Backrowers Christie and Grace return to NPC rugby after sitting out last year’s competition with injuries.
Bourke is also expecting Harmon, who “holds a lot of mana within our group” to be “the perfect guy to lead our team on Friday”.
The backline includes overseas-bound former All Blacks wing George Bridge, Crusaders rookie Chay Fihaka and Manasa Mataele, who played Super Rugby with the Western Force this year.
Academy products Seb Calder (prop) and Will Gaulter (outside back) are set for their Canterbury debuts off the bench.
AT A GLANCE
Canterbury NPC team to play Manawatū on Friday at 7.05pm
Chay Fihaki, Manasa Mataele, Dallas McLeod, Rameka Poihipi, George Bridge, Fergus Burke, Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Billy Harmon (c), Zach Gallagher, Sam Darry, Owen Franks, Brodie McAlister, Finlay Brewis. Reserves: Shilo Klein, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Seb Calder, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Willi Heinz, Alex Harford, Will Gualter.