WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Veteran All Blacks prop Owen Franks will quit New Zealand rugby after this year's World Cup to join England club Northampton.
Franks was the third-youngest prop to play for New Zealand when he was first chosen for the All Blacks aged 21 in 2009. At 31, he is the second-most capped prop behind Tony Woodcock (118) with 106 appearances at the start of his final season.
Franks missed only a handful of tests in the intervening 10 years and was regarded as one of the best props in the world both for his scrummaging ability and general play. He was also renowned for his tough, physical approach.
"Owie is one of the most professional players I've had the privilege of coaching," All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said. "The standards he sets for himself, and others, are exemplary.
"His unbelievable commitment to his preparation, on-field and gym training, diet and his game is there for all to see, and inspires others. He has done this from the first time he made the All Blacks in 2009, has continued that throughout his whole career, and his achievement in reaching 106 tests to date reflects that."
Franks is one of only nine players to have made more than 100 test appearances for New Zealand.
In joining the Northampton Saints he will play beside his brother, former All Blacks prop Ben Franks.
"New Zealand will always be home but Northampton presents a great opportunity for me to test myself in a new rugby environment and reconnect with family there," Franks said. "While I know I'll look back at the end of my time in New Zealand with an immense amount of pride, I still have a lot I want to achieve this year and some big goals to tick off before I leave."
Franks joins a growing exodus of leading New Zealand players to Britain, France and Japan. All Blacks captain Kieran Read has indicated he will also leave, probably for France, after the World Cup.
Fullback Ben Smith, winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, center Ryan Crotty and backrower Liam Squire are others expected to depart.
New Zealand Rugby is also facing a battle to retain flyhalf Beauden Barrett and locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock who have been targeted by European clubs.