Kruis ready to destroy another All Black dream in Japan
England lock George Kruis is making habit of destroying All Black dreams in Japan after ruining Kieran Read’s bid for a glorious end to his career having also ended the No8’s attempt to lift the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Now, his target is All Black play-maker Beauden Barrett who is hoping to guide Suntory Sungoliath to the Japan Top League title by defeating Kruis’s Panasonic Wild Knights in Sunday’s final in Tokyo.
Kruis is one of three players from last season’s Saracens squad preparing for high profile finals this week with Will Skelton at the heart of La Rochelle’s Heineken Cup final clash with Toulouse on Saturday while Alex Lozowski will be a key player for Montpellier in their European Challenge Cup final with Leicester 24 hours earlier.
Read announced his retirement from rugby after another semi-final defeat in Japan as his Toyota Verbitz team lost 48-21 to Kruis and the Wild Knights. It was a disappointing full stop to Read’s career and was added to his last four defeat to England at the World Cup in 2019 where Kruis helped deliver a 19-7 triumph which proved to be the pinnacle of their achievement as they crashed 32-12 to South Africa in the final in Yokohama.
Kruis spoke to Read after the game and told RugbyPass: “Kieran said he was looking forward to heading home and spending time with his family because they hadn’t been able to come over. What a career that guy has had and it was great for Japan to see the last part of his career and he played well in that semi-final.
“Getting to the final is a good reflection of what they guys here have been doing to deal with the impact of the pandemic and the Ricoh team had to pull out of the competition because of cases. We have had a ‘team first’ mentality and that is something that is very relevant. The sacrifices make it even more satisfying to reach the final.
The Top League final is taking place at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground with 5,000 fans expected to attend despite continuing worries over the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Japan which is going ahead with plans to stage the delayed Olympic Games in July.
Barrett scored 21 points ease Sungoliath past Kubota Spears 26-9 with what Kruis described as an “industrial” performance proving their opponents in the final can play pragmatic rugby as well as throwing the ball around. Kruis’s Wild Knights feature an exciting blend of local backline talent and experienced internationals including Welsh centre Hadleigh Parkes who helped initiate a stunning opening try in the semi-final win scored by Japanese test star Kenki Fukuoka. The wing grabbed a hat-trick of tries in what will be his final season as he is to pursue a career as a doctor.
Kruis, who has signed on for a second season in Japan, respects the threat Barrett and Sungoliath will pose and said: “They are absolutely not a one man team and have been playing expansive rugby although they locked it up for the semi-final. They showed two sides of their game and it will be a tighter, set-piece driven contest and Barrett did kick more in the semi-final. When you have someone like him pulling the tactical strings then they will be in a good place and we have to be very aware of that fact.”
Controversially, Sungoliath have received training tips from England head coach Eddie Jones who has worked with Barrett. Kruis caught up with Jones while he was in Japan recently and said: “I had a quick catch up with Eddie and it made sense to touch base and I have a lot of respect for him. It is always good to speak to someone with such a lot of experience in Japan and it was right time to do that about a few things. He had been helping Suntory.”
It is Panasonic’s fifth appearance in the final during under the control of former Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans who aiming to add a fourth Top League to the five Super Rugby titles, he achieved from nine seasons with the Crusaders in New Zealand.
Kruis had enjoyed working with Deans and added: “Robbie comes at it from a different angle and it is quite player led. We have a fair few players who are experienced and the way he goes about things is slightly different to say Eddie but then Eddie is different to Mark McCall (Saracens director of rugby). I have enjoyed learning from him.
“We have some ridiculously good Japanese players in our backs and it will be interesting to see how Warren Gatland selects his Lions team to face Japan in the warm-up match for the tour to South Africa. Japan will play a different kind of game to the Springboks .”
Once the final is over Kruis will head back to London for a “four or five-month” break between seasons, an unusually long period that will allow his body to fully recover. It will also enable Kruis to concentrate on the cannabis oil and nutrition brand he launched with former Saracens teammate Dominic Day which has received a six-figure investment for expansion.
The company, Fourfive, runs a programme of supporting athletes for life after sport, received the funding from a range of sports and business professionals, including England cricketer Jason Roy.
Roy said: “What really attracted me to investing in fourfive was not only the passion fourfive has around striving for the best products but also the efforts that are going into “off-field” areas such as supporting athletes transition and grass roots sports charities.”
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