As the British & Irish Lions prepare to take on South Africa, 2017 tourist George Kruis is giving you the chance to win a signed Lions 2017 jersey. Plus, hear how the players on tour will be feeling, what life is like in Japan, and about how his business is progressing.
Win a signed Lions 2017 jersey
“I’m pumped man, I’m pumped to watch it.”
In 2017, George Kruis was about to pull on a British & Irish Lions Test match jersey to face the All Blacks. Four years on from that match, he’s watching the current series from home.
Win a signed Lions 2017 jersey
However, ahead of the first Test against South Africa, he is giving you the chance to win a signed Lions 2017 jersey.
It’s one of the most iconic jerseys in sport, and Kruis is clear about how important the Lions shirt is to those who wear it.
“This jersey is the pinnacle of anyone in the British Isles’ career. It’s every four years, and of course you need to be in the right place at the right time, but you also need to play consistently well over a long period to get a Test shirt.
“The Lions are special because they bring together four nations, and also because it’s more of an old-school type tour. There’s tradition.”
Despite this, one aspect of the Lions experience passed Kruis by – the shirt presentation. “I can’t really remember it too much!”, he says, laughing. “It was just in a random team meeting I think.”
How will the 2021 tourists be finding the experience?
You might expect the days ahead of the first Test to be fraught with nerves, but according to the ex-England second row, a different emotion dominates.
“There’ll just be excitement. They’re at the point of the week when they’ve done all the hard training, done all the prep work, and so it’s just about relaxing, enjoying it, and applying the finishing touches.”
“All these players will have been through international selection, club selection, academy selection – they’ll be used to it.”
More difficult might be the absence of the traditional Lions experience for the 2021 tourists, with Kruis feeling sympathy for some of his friends in the squad – although with a qualifier.
“First and foremost, the experience for them is playing for the Lions, and that should be at the front of their minds. But I think ultimately it is annoying. Obviously they’re out in South Africa which has so many beautiful places – safari, beaches, mountains – and it’s a bit gutting from a South African hosting perspective and from a fan’s perspective that these experiences haven’t been happening.”
Life at the Saitama Wild Knights
On the topic of different experiences, since the last Lions tour, Kruis has left behind the world of rugby which he used to know. Having only represented Saracens at club level, he joined the Panasonic Wild Knights (now rebranded as the Saitama Wild Knights) in Japan for the 2020 season.
It might have been hard leaving a team as culture-driven for Saracens, but Kruis was fortunate from the moment he arrived at the Wild Knights, leaving the UK in the midst of covid-19 restrictions.
“Culture-wise, they’re definitely one of the clubs in Japan that have nailed it. They look after you really well, much like Saracens in terms of that care for the player. They’re interested in off-field things, like my business, and are supportive of it.”
“On-field it’s tough, because there’s a lot of people from different areas, with language barriers and so on, but the club have done a really good job of bonding us. We’ve got a nice mix of young and old in different positions, which makes it a well-balanced team.”
“All this – as a player, it makes you want to play harder. The longer you can look after people off-field, the more invested they are, and the longer they stick around.”
In the short-term Kruis has done exactly that. Originally signed on a one+one deal, he’s taken up an option for the second season, which will begin in January. “I snapped up the second year as soon as I could”, he explained.
However, in the long-term, Kruis is still considering whether his future lies in Europe or Japan.
“I will pick the right route after next season. I want to give myself options, to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. The main attraction of coming back is that it would be nice to finish my career where I started it, with a lot of good friends.”
“But I’m enjoying it in Japan. We’re moving to a new training ground, newly built this year, and we’ve got a new stadium, a little closer to the centre of Tokyo. I’d miss the food, and I’d miss how it’s quieter here – you don’t have to speak English all the time!”
“I’ll miss the sit-down showers”, he jokes, “And the onsens, which are lovely. There’s plenty I’ll miss.”
Moreover, the Japanese league is quickly becoming one of the places to be from a playing perspective, as well as all the lifestyle benefits. Kruis plays with Japanese internationals Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, and Kenki Fukuoka, but is also impressed with the depth which teams possess.
“A lot of the younger guys are really exciting. Japan now have a proper team, and you can see how well they’ve done in the last two World Cups. They’ve had some huge growth, have attracted really good coaches, and it’s exciting to see the players I know performing really well for Japan.”
It might not even be too long before we see more Brave Blossoms stars featuring in European leagues. Outside back Kotaro Matsushima currently plays for Clermont Auvergne, but aside from Kazuki Himeno at the Highlanders, only a few ply their trade outside Japan.
“You could definitely see more in England. As players become better, more European clubs will look at them as well. I think as a player, to become better, sometimes you need to go and work in different environments. Smart coaches look at that as an option – they might send a prop to the UK to play in more of a set-piece league, to learn their trade.”
Asked what he’s learned from his Japanese experience so far, Kruis is effusive in his praise.
“It’s definitely a different type of league in terms of more running, more passing, and less set-piece. It’s opened my eyes to playing a different style of rugby, which the Premiership is more closed off to.”
What is Kruis doing outside rugby?
The Premiership’s attritional nature contributed to the creation of Kruis’ business, fourfive, a manufacturer of premium wellness products for the active community. Cofounded with former Wales lock Dominic Day, its range includes CBD oil and nutritional supplements. This latter product is newly developed by the company, and has taken up much of Kruis’ time in the Japanese off-season.
“In the last few months we’ve created some premium and high-quality nutrition which is getting really good traction. We’ve been going through retailers. It’s all Informed Sport tested, and of a really high standard for professionals and clubs.”
Their company is perhaps best known for its range of cannabidiol (CBD) products, which possess the pain-killing properties of cannabis without containing any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the source of the high. Rugby World took a deep dive into its use in rugby in October 2020.
A recent study by John Moores University reported that 25% of players have used CBD in the past, while 8% continue to use it regularly. BBC Scotland have reported that it could soon become “as common as a protein shake”, an analogy which Kruis sees sense in.
“I absolutely agree with that. There’s a load of hype on CBD, but for me, it’s simply a supplement. There’s both really good anecdotal and scientific evidence coming in. For me, I take it like fish oil in the mornings. It’s something I think will become part of a balanced diet, and it’s good that it’s heading in that direction.”
So in all senses, George Kruis is keeping his options open. He’s wanted in both Japan and Europe, has a thriving business outside rugby, and is loving his experience abroad. Playing second row is considered a life in the engine room – but Kruis has manufactured himself breathing room.
You can enter his competition to win a signed Lions 2017 jersey.
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