Veteran prop Franks omitted from All Blacks World Cup squad

              FILE- In this June 8, 2017, file photo, Canterbury Crusaders and All Black prop forward Owen Franks answers reporters questions at a news conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. Head coach Steve Hansen has dropped 108-test veteran prop Franks and gambled on the age and fitness of other players in naming a 31-man All Blacks which will attempt to win the Rugby World Cup for the third consecutive time. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — For almost a decade he was the backbone of the All Blacks scrum and then, cruelly, he wasn’t.

Owen Franks’ 108 tests at tighthead prop, his two previous world championships, weren’t enough to earn him a seat on the plane to his third Rugby World Cup. When head coach Steve Hansen named his 31-man squad to play in Japan from next month, Franks’ omission was a resounding shock.

The 31-year-old strongman had planned to retire from test rugby after the World Cup, to finish his career in England. Hansen brought the moment of parting forward when he telephoned Franks and told him his international career was over.

Before announcing his squad, Hansen said those calls to players who had not been selected were “the toughest part of the job.”

He described Franks “one of the great All Blacks.”

“He certainly has shown true character,” Hansen 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. Therefore, 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 Hansen had to make. He chose not to select backrower Liam Squire who missed most of the Super Rugby season because of injury, then chose not to play the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup tests because he felt his fitness wasn’t up to it.

Squire has been back on the field in New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship but Hansen decided the backrower wasn’t fit enough for a World Cup at this stage.

“We had a really good phone call and discussed things,” Hansen said. “While Liam is playing really well for Tasman and is enjoying his rugby, at the conclusion of the conversation it was agreed he would make himself available if he was required as a replacement.”

The other tough call was to center Ngani Laumape, who has left out in a tight contest for midfield places. Hansen chose instead to select 34-year-old Sonny Bill Williams, who will be playing in his third World Cup.

He had the happier duty of telling several youngsters they had made the cut. The biggest surprise was the selection of backrower Luke Jacobson at the age of 22 and after only one test. Jacobson takes Squire’s seat on the flight to Japan.

“He’s an ex-Under-20s captain, he understands the game really well, 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,” Hansen said. “It’s exciting where he could end up . if he stays injury-free he could have a long career in the All Blacks jersey.”

There was slight surprise in the selection of the veteran lock Brodie Retallick, who has been out of action with a serious shoulder injury which might not allow him to play until the knockout rounds of the World Cup. Hansen is prepared to take that chance.

Three Barrett brothers are in the squad, with playmaker Beauden Barrett joined by Scott, a lock, and Jordie, an outside back.

New Zealand has won the last two World Cups and will try in Japan to become the first team to win three in a row. Hansen wants players beside him like Retallick, Williams and the 33-year-old fullback Ben Smith when he makes the attempt.