Some players are more appreciated by their teammates than the general public. Which is why George Kruis will leave a more sizeable hole than some might think should next Saturday’s Six Nations fixture against Wales be his last appearance for England before he heads in an alternative direction.
There is no confirmation as yet but, with the Italy game in Rome threatened by the coronavirus outbreak and a big-money offer from Japan on the table, it is no secret that Kruis, now 30, is pondering a life beyond Saracens and the national team. Having invested in setting up a company which sells cannabis oil to help athletes relax and sleep better, his post-rugby plans are already well-advanced.
The stats say England will miss him when he does go – of the 28 Tests he has started England have lost only four – and longstanding teammates such as Jamie George say his influence stretches way beyond his lineout expertise. “Everyone looks at his lineout – he’s a nause, a guru, whatever you want to call it he’s brilliant – but he works incredibly hard on his all-round game. He is one of the hardest-working players you will find … in terms of standard-setting you don’t need to look much further than him.”
Not many at Saracens, when they first saw him as a gangling youth, envisaged him winning 45 caps for England and a Lions starting Test jersey against New Zealand in 2017. “I remember him joining Saracens as an 18-year-old,” recalls George. “He’d have to drive from Dorking every morning, getting up at 5am, and I think he was 90 kilos. He was awful, nothing short of that, a bad rugby player. Everyone was like: ‘Are we just handing trials out? He’s a competition winner?’ Then he gets in the gym and you see how hard he works. He’s squeezed the most out of his career he possibly could.”
Every good team needs a “glue” player who hits endless rucks, does all the other unglamorous tasks and consistently puts his body on the line for the cause. Kruis has been receiving slightly less praise for his attempted clearance kick against Ireland last week – “It was terrible, the worst thing he’s ever done on a rugby field, which is saying something,” suggests George – but otherwise he “massively enjoyed” being part of a mostly dominant English pack.
Such experiences will be hard to replicate but Kruis insists he will not be overwhelmed by extra emotion before what could be his Twickenham swansong. “It’s always emotional playing for England. It is an absolute privilege, something myself and definitely my family and my friends really enjoy.
“It is tough [to weigh up what to do next]. But it is extremely exciting on all fronts. If I stay it’s an unbelievable opportunity, if I go it is also a great opportunity. I need to sit down and have a proper think once we have finished up the Six Nations.”
Given England currently boast an enviable array of second-rows, with Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels all vying for places, the temptation to bow out at the top is obvious. There is also the small matter of Saracens’s relegation from the Premiership and the looming prospect of Championship rugby for their England stars next season.
Either way, Kruis’s priority is next Saturday – “Wales don’t give up, we’ll be focusing on discipline throughout the game” – when he is unlikely to do any more kicking. “I probably won’t be doing that again. It was on, it was just an execution error. We’ve reviewed it as a team. I should probably have stuck to my skillset.”