I’m still improving, Kruis warns rivals
GEORGE Kruis admits being dropped by the Lions was hard to take but insists lessons from the three-Test series against New Zealand will stand both him and England in good stead.
Saracens enforcer Kruis overcame multiple injury setbacks to earn a place on the tour and then start the first Test in Auckland. However, a lacklustre display in a 30-15 defeat saw him dumped by head coach Warren Gatland, who replaced him with clubmate Maro Itoje.
Kruis failed to make the bench in Tests two and three with Courtney Lawes selected instead, but the 27year-old has quickly come to terms with his disappointment and is determined to win back his England place during the autumn internationals. Kruis told The Rugby
Paper: “When you underperform in a game when you know there’s a lot more in you, it’s very tough to take. But this is part and parcel of playing rugby, it’s how you bounce back that really counts.
“I’d like to think that I presented myself well in training. I certainly felt part of the overall effort for the second and third Tests in terms of helping the guys and I like to think I contributed.
“It was an incredible experience to be part of. I obviously didn’t play the way I wanted to in that first Test, but to get back from having three operations in a year and put myself in contention to start was something I can still feel massively proud about.”
Despite becoming a fullyfledged Lion, Kruis now faces the twin challenge of nailing down a starting spot at Saracens amid increased second row competition, whilst forcing his way back into an England set-up brimming with fresh young options at lock.
Saracens teammate Nick Isiekwe, right, impressed for England alongside Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels in Argentina in June, while Kruis concedes the arrival of experienced international duo Will Skelton and Dominic Day has significantly upped the ante at Allianz Park.
He said: “Saracens have recruited unbelievably well and it feels like we’ve got a much better squad than last season, which is saying something.
“Will Skelton had a short spell with us last season and clearly wanted to improve as a player. He wants to do all the extras and if you’re going sign someone for a long time, that’s exactly what you want to see from an experienced international.
“If you’ve got that you can really get the ball rolling and with myself, Maro, Dom Day, Mark Flanagan and good young lads like Nick Isiekwe and Danny Cutmore as well, not only do we have the depth to withstand international periods, we’ve got the future covered as well.” Of Isiekwe’s ability to make an impact this season, Kruis adds: “He’s proved with his England caps already that he can live on the big stage and while he’s got some learning to do, he’s definitely hungry and he’s a simply phenomenal athlete around the park. “You look at his stature and he’s got a bit of Maro about him – big, with a good work ethic – and it’s just a case of him learning his trade now.
“In our second row over the past year we’ve been quite tight on rotation because we haven’t had the numbers, but we can bring that back a bit more now to keep guys fresh while giving people like Nick their opportunity.”
As for his own England ambitions this November, Kruis said: “I just want to get back playing for England again because I haven’t featured since last autumn and there are some good second rows out there who’ve taken their chances.
“We’ve had a catch-up with the relevant England coaches and it’s a team that just wants to keep improving. I’m 27, so the way I look at it is that I’ve got a lot more improvement left in me.”
Having had a close-up view of New Zealand, Kruis agrees with coach Eddie Jones’ assertion that England must improve their fitness and skills by 15-20 per cent if they are to overtake the world champions between now and the 2019 World Cup.
He said: “There are definitely things you can take from what New Zealand do; they’re constantly alive, always on their mettle and you saw that with the tap and go try they scored in the first Test when we just completely switched off.
“Eddie’s right to put a big emphasis on our fitness, too, because the fitter you are, the better decisions you’ll make because you’re more likely to be on the ball.”
Lion hearted: George Kruis drives the ball up in the first Test against the All Blacks