Rugby: The front row: the men at the coal face

In the first in a series breaking down the All Black squad, position by position, ahead of the World Cup, Steve Hepburn looks at the front row.

The front row is where it all happens.

Have a good platform in the scrum and your side is already on the front foot.

Many teams may have the flash backs and the beanpole forwards but no props often means no success on the scoreboard.

Former All Black prop Kees Meeuws said he was happy with the make-up of the All Black front row, although he felt Wyatt Crockett was unlucky to be cut.

"He has had the best season he has ever had and so I feel disappointed for him that he missed out," he said.

Meeuws had some concerns about any cover at the loosehead position if Tony Woodcock got injured.

Woodcock had a nasty foot injury which knocked him out for a large chunk of the Super 15 and he has only just returned to action.

Meeuws said the experience of men like Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu was a huge plus for New Zealand.

"Then you've got the young guys coming up behind them. You've got Owen Franks who is still only 23 and he is developing into a real top player."

The scrum was still important in rugby, Meeuws said, and the All Blacks had the players to help it dominate the set piece. But that did not mean the side would have a cakewalk to victory.

Meeuws, who played in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups which ended with painful exits at the semifinal stages for the All Blacks, said every side needed a bit of good fortune to win the tournament.

All Black selectors may have to take a serious look at Woodcock and wonder if he was still the man to wear the No 1 jersey for the team.

He has been bothered by injuries in the past couple of years, and needs to get back to his best quickly or he may lose out to Ben Franks. Crockett is undoubtedly unlucky and has paid for - fairly or unfairly - being on the wrong end of the referee's whistle.

The hooking role will probably start with Mealamu, who has been in a rich vein of form over the past couple of years. His lineout throwing is accurate enough and he always gets over the advantage line when he charges the ball up.

Andrew Hore was injured last year and has taken a long time to get back on board, not helped by the dramas in the Hurricanes.

But there are few better around the ruck.

Corey Flynn has won the third hooking spot but is not likely to see much action.


The front-rowers

Props

Ben Franks
Age: 27
Test caps: 11
Physical: 117kg, 1.84m
A big barrel of a man who can play on both sides of the scrum and a good runner with the ball.

Owen Franks
Age: 23
Test caps: 24
Physical: 119kg, 1.85m
The man who has made Carl Hayman a distant memory, he has quickly become a cornerstone of the pack.

Tony Woodcock
Age: 30
Test caps: 76
Physical: 119kg, 1.84m
A veteran who has been slow to get under way this season but is getting into his work.

John Afoa
Age: 27
Test caps: 34
Physical: 119kg, 1.83m
The last hurrah for Afoa who is heading for Ireland. He is likely to have an impact off the bench.

Hookers

Andrew Hore
Age: 32
Test caps: 55
Physical: 113kg, 1.83m
After a slow start to the season Hore is getting back to his best, and does not back down from anyone.

Keven Mealamu
Age: 32
Test caps: 86
Physical: 109kg, 1.81m
A livewire who is dynamic with the ball in hand, Mealamu appears to be getting better with age.

Corey Flynn
Age: 30
Test caps: 14
Physical: 108kg, 1.84m
Finally clear of injury, Flynn does the basics well but is probably destined to ride the pine.


 

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