Former England lock George Kruis was at the heart of the third Saracens Heineken Champions Cup triumph in four years when they defeated Leinster last season, but he will be restricted to the role of television viewer when the teams meet again in Saturday’s mouth-watering quarter-final clash on Dublin.
Kruis is one of six starters from the 20-10 come-from-behind victory at Newcastle who is now missing from the Saracens team, a direct result of the financial ramifications of their relegation triggered by Gallagher Premiership salary cap breaches.
Liam Williams, Alex Lozowski, Ben Spencer, Titi Lamositele, Will Skelton and Kruis have left for new challenges but the Test second row has uniquely been allowed to train with the club he represented for twelve years.
Kruis has agreed on an initial one-year deal to join Panasonic Wild Knights and expects to leave for Japan in “four to six weeks”, a switch that will see him play alongside former Wallaby David Pocock and ex-Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes at a club that has Robbie Deans as head coach.
While he has been unable to train against the Saracens players for insurance reasons, Kruis has been working out at the club and has offered insights into the Leinster lineout. He is adamant that despite the loss of key players from last year’s winning team, including the suspended Owen Farrell and loan departures Jack Singleton, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl and Nick Tompkins, talk of the result being a foregone conclusion is premature.
Last year's finalists do battle once more on Saturday ??
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) September 14, 2020
Saracens may be bottom of the Premiership thanks to the points penalties their salary breaches delivered, but they have won enough matches to be inside the top four and making the last-eight of the European Cup offers the chance to give captain Brad Barritt and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth one more trophy to mark the end of their remarkable careers at the club.
Assessing how Saracens are shaping up for Saturday, Kruis told RugbyPass: “It would be nice to be preparing to play in Dublin but I’m keen to get out to Japan. I made a decision early doors and have stuck to it. I’m around the playing group a fair bit and we have had some conversations and it’s good to keep involved. It’s a good relationship.
“Brad and Richard have been class for the club and they are ingrained in what we have been doing and the success. I will be watching the match on the box – the Saracens team looks really good and there is experience in key positions. Obviously, a lot of guys have left or gone on loan, but there is a decent chunk of players who know their roles and I’m hopeful of them pulling it off.
“Saracens have been really good to allow me to train and crack on. I have a young lad who helps with my training programme and also with GPS and other support and they didn’t need to do that. I’m massively grateful to the club but insurance-wise I have not trained with the players. However, it’s great to knock around with them in the gym.”
Visas for sportsmen and women heading for Japan are currently being arranged for a wide range of sports, not just rugby, and Kruis admits it is comforting to finally have a target to aim for following the quarantine complications created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is a rush to the embassy to get visas sorted out and I need to be there by the start of November and will probably head to Japan in mid-October,” said Kruis, who has been able to spend ample time working at www.fourfivecbd.co.uk, the cannabis oil company he set-up with Wales lock Dominic Day.
“I have been on calls, including a leadership one with the club in Japan, and I’m getting used to the translation. They are very proactive in getting information out of you and Robbie Deans is a very likeable character. I have been in touch on a regular basis with Hadleigh, who is back in New Zealand, to catch up and share information about moving abroad.
“Over the last six months I have had a great opportunity to get stuck into the (cannabis oil) business and it has interesting managing employees through the Covid period. As players, we live a sheltered life and in times like this it has opened people’s eyes to the fact they need to start looking at planning off the field. Being based in Japan will allow us to look into the demand in that country for natural medicines and there is a lot of work I can be doing over there.”
Preparing for a new life in Japan has been made easier by the fact so many players are heading to the Far East from England, including club teammate Alex Goode, Charlie Matthews (Harlequins) and Bath’s Freddie Burns.
Kruis has been taking lessons to learn the language. “I’m continuing to try and learn the language and while it’s not the worst in the world, it could be better. I don’t know if the lineout calls will be in English or Japanese. That is the next online meeting and I don’t know if they will be able to understand me in either!”
Always a silver lining https://t.co/Afb5E8f0F0
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 15, 2020
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