Welsh rugby finally returns next weekend when the four regions resume action in the Guinness Pro 14. The Scarlets face the Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys host the Dragons, with some familiar faces on show. But for Scarlets’ new scrum coach Ben Franks, this will be a new experience with fresh objectives, as the former All Blacks star tells Steffan Thomas.
Former All Blacks World Cup winning prop Ben Franks plans to resurrect the career of Wales’ “once in a generation prop” Samson Lee.
Scarlets prop Lee took over the Wales No.3 shirt from the legendary Adam Jones and quickly made a name for himself on the international stage.
But shortly after being lauded by Jones as a generational talent, the Llanelli man suffered a serious Achillies injury and he has struggled with his fitness ever since.
Now, though, Lee is fighting fit and will play a key role for the Scarlets who resume their Guinness Pro 14 campaign against Cardiff Blues next weekend, with coverage on S4C.
And All Blacks legend Franks, who has joined Glenn Delaney’s back-room team as scrum coach, is confident Lee can get back on the right track.
“I definitely think I can help Samson get better,” said Franks, in his first interview since arriving in Wales.
“I’ve come in with a clean slate and I think it’s a clean slate for Samson as well. Samson looks really good in training and there’s no doubt he’s an excellent scrummager.
“It’s about keeping fit and showing it in games. From what I’ve seen of him he looks like an international prop and I’m keen to help him get back to that level.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes on the field of play now because it’s got to a point where you’re training so much you just need to play. I can see it in his eyes and the other players that they just need a game now.
“I know from past experience how tough it is coming back from injuries but the best thing for him is to get a good run of games under his belt. If he can do that, then his talent will show because that wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”
On paper, the Scarlets have the strongest squad of the four Welsh regions and boast enviable front-row resources including internationals Rob Evans, Wyn Jones, Ken Owen and Ryan Elias. And Franks is confident the Scarlets scrum can become a weapon over the coming seasons.
He added: “We’ve got a good mixture of experience and youth in the front-row. We’ve got Ken Owens at one end and on the other end we’ve got some really talented academy kids.
“It’s a good opportunity for the young guys to learn and for me to listen to the older guys to see what they need.
“For me, learning was always motivating so if they are excited about learning and excited about the scrum sessions then that will help them improve.
“I’ve loved working with them so far. It’s not about me, it’s about what those guys want to do because they are the ones on the field and they are the ones who have got to execute it.
“It’s good to be part of a group where there’s a good mix of experience and youth.
“There’s a lot of quality players in the Scarlets pack but the actual strength of the scrum is not about individual players it’s about working as an eight. That’s the toughest thing.
“You can take players out individually and help them work on areas where they can improve on, but getting them to work collectively as a pack is the real key to success. So that’s what we’ve been trying to spend a lot of time on.
“The thing with scrums is that sometimes it just takes time. There’s combinations of working with guys and as an eight.
“Confidence is also a big part of a successful scrum. There’s no magic formula.
“Over a number of games building some confidence can bring a scrum forward a long way. I’d like to think I can help them but I know it’s a process.”
Franks will be involved for the first time when the Scarlets welcome the Blues to Parc Y Scarlets on Saturday.
The Kiwi can then get the measure of his new team’s rivals the following day when the Ospreys host the Dragons.
In an illustrious playing career Franks won 47 caps for New Zealand lifting the Webb-Ellis Cup on two occasions.
Now, he insists he couldn’t have picked a better place to begin his coaching career than in Llanelli alongside fellow New Zealander Delaney.
“It was a good opportunity for me. I announced my retirement quite early before the lockdown and then on the first weekend of lockdown I got a call from Glenn (Delaney).
“It was too good of an opportunity for me to turn down. I’ve worked with Glenn before so I knew he’d be someone who I could work with while he’s also someone who could challenge me.
“I knew Scarlets are a good club. They have a lot of talented players and a great history so to be part of that was appealing.
“Also me and my family are small town people and now that we live in Hendy it fits us to a tee. It ticked all the boxes for me both professionally and family wise.”
Sat Aug 22, 8.00pm – S4C: Clwb Rygbi – A chance to enjoy all 80 minutes of the derby match between the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues.