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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Tom Sunderland

George Kruis accomplished wonders in rugby - but biggest feats may be to come

Retirement from professional sport can often prove a bitter pill for athletes to swallow, but George Kruis ' appetite to advance his off-field interests will make his impending departure a lot less bitter.

The rugby community was stunned when the former Saracens talisman announced in February, on his 32nd birthday, that the current season would be his last. Despite there being a hunger for the player to return to England in time for next year's Rugby World Cup in France, British and Irish Lions -capped Kruis has ambitions extending beyond 2023.

It's fitting that a player who's spent so much of his career as a champion of player welfare will remain a bastion for that same cause in the next phase of life. Kruis—who left London for Saitama (formerly Panasonic) Wild Knights in 2020—has a growing empire in FourFive, the wellness brand he founded alongside former Sarries team-mate Dominic Day in 2019.

After winning four Premiership trophies, three Champions Cups, two Six Nations titles, one Japanese league crown and featuring in a World Cup final, it would be a stretch to suggest Kruis is looking forward to retiring. But after getting a head-start on his post-playing options, he's boosted by a laser focus at a point in his life when others are left lacking direction.

Speaking to Mirror Sport from his Saitama base not far from Tokyo, Kruis can't help but feel mixed emotions as he draws closer to the end of his playing days. The departing star is targeting a run-out with the Barbarians against England at Twickenham on June 19, by which point he'll hope to be a back-to-back champion of Japan's Rugby League One.

Difficult as it may be given how glittering his career has been among the sport's elite, the lock muses that "if we remove the rugby side of it," he can hardly wait for what's to come. Kruis—who was a Rugby Players Association (RPA) representative for much of his 11 years at Saracens—acknowledges there's a beauty in deciding when to take his leave, as there are many players unable to bow out "on their own terms."

Former England and Saracens star George Kruis is "unbelievably pumped" to take a more hands-on approach with his business after retiring from rugby (Getty Images)

It's particularly relevant after rugby suffered a number of high-profile departures of late. Wales and Scarlets flanker James Davies—younger brother of Lions star Jonathan—recently announced his exit from the sport at 31 after struggles with concussion, while Ireland and Leinster star Dan Leavy hung up his boots aged 27 due to complications with a long-standing knee injury.

"All the emotions with ending a career are starting to come a bit more to light than when you plan it three or four months ago," said Kruis. "I feel really excited to play out my career and go when the time's right for me—but I'd say the overriding [emotion] is definitely excitement; I'm unbelievably pumped by what is the next chapter for me."

There's a lot to be excited about, after all. Barely three years after its launch, FourFive has evolved beyond its initial remit as a nutrition and supplement brand, adapting into a more all-encompassing one-stop shop for athlete care. It's here Kruis appears particularly passionate in his work, voicing a need for sportspeople to have avenues open to them outside their respective disciplines (and the company doesn't discriminate).

While Day (who retired at Saracens in 2019) splits his time between London and Dublin focusing on building FourFive's retail sector and partnerships, Kruis is more excited by the human aspect. For example, the company boasts a network of associated sportspeople dubbed 'Team Players'—of which England and Exeter Chiefs winger Jack Nowell is a member—who help promote products, but only because they want to.

"We're just trying to take the 'fakeness' out of [the 'influencer' side of the business]," Kruis explained. "If we can help players who genuinely want our supplements because they're very high-quality, tested products. But then also we can help them in PR because we have investors in PR. If it's nutrition [they're interested in], we've got nutritionists. If it's mental health, we've got a mental health investor on board."

The list goes on. Business and television are just some of the other industries in which sportspeople can look to FourFive for aid when exploring post-career options, making it a valuable commodity in today's economy. Kruis lauded Saracens in particular for a progressive approach when it comes to helping their stars progress off the field as well as on it, though he said players "have to be pro-active" in pushing for that progress.

Dominic Day (second left) and George Kruis (far right) have secured a deal with former employers Saracens as the club's 'official wellness partner' (@georgekruis Instagram)

The second-row is supremely modest after hearing his academic qualification read back to him; with three A-grade A-Levels (chemistry, biology and P.E.) and a first-class degree in business administration, FourFive almost seemed fated. "Was that a question," he jests before highlighting will, not necessarily wits, was the key to those accomplishments. "I think it's just about working hard and working smart."

Business partner Day—who played 110 times for Bath and made another 92 appearances for the Scarlets —connected with Kruis during their time at Saracens but had a much different route into this field. A three-cap Wales international and journeyman of five professional clubs in England, Japan, Australia and his native land, he was one of those forced to re-assess due to escalating concerns over his knee.

The idea for FourFive was conceived when the duo were both injured and spending a lot of time together in the physio room, feeling the benefits of CBD oil before deciding the product needed greater exposure. As someone well-acquainted with the frustration injuries can have on a career, Day's passion to help his peers shines through as they aim to "give people products that work and can actually make a difference in their lives."

He echoes his old team-mate's belief in adding that not only does the company want to provide a reliable product, he feels "there's a need" for athletes to know exactly what they're taking. And not just athletes, either, but Day appreciates the part role models play in influencing the general public, which is where his work in partnerships and retail relations comes to the fore.

"We're not directly targeting professional sportspeople," he said. "We want to help anyone live as [high a] quality and active life as possible. But we think if people can see these guys who really look after their bodies, and take it seriously, are using these products, then there's some crossover there."

Just as he does for 80 minutes most weeks, Kruis exudes a tireless work-rate off the field, too, and insists there won't be any sort of post-retirement siesta come June. Instead, he intends to immediately expand his responsibilities with FourFive once he ends his time in Saitama and returns to British shores.

FourFive products can already be found in major retailers like Boots (@georgekruis Instagram)

Day—who enjoyed his own spell in Japan with Toyota Verblitz—joked there are positives and negatives to come with the fact he and his colleagues will soon get "double George," adding his partner's "work ethic is through the roof." He detailed it's not uncommon for Kruis to do a full day of training with Wild Knights before committing to "four or five hours of calls" from the other side of the world.

The pair's past at Saracens will have undoubtedly had some hand in the five-time Premiership champions tying down FourFive as its 'official wellness partner'. It speaks volumes that the incumbent English leaders, Leicester Tigers, have also acquired a deal as its 'wellness nutrition supplier', however, with other teams in a broader range of fields to follow.

Although Kruis and Day have each had a taste of playing in Japan—where many of the clubs' 'semi-pro' players will also work shifts with affiliated companies like Panasonic or Toyota—their experiences varied. The former praised Wild Knights boss Robbie Deans—ex- Australia head coach and All Blacks assistant—for encouraging family time and other interests, while Day's time with Verblitz was more regimented.

That being said, the companions are aligned in the belief those involved in sport should be conscious of their lives off the field (or court, or track. . .), and it can only be a positive for clubs to aid in that pursuit. After providing countless hours of entertainment to the rugby masses at the expense of their bodies, time and energy are now the main sacrifices as they seek to help their fellow athletes.

In that sense, the two have a chance at making a much larger overall impact through FourFive, which is saying a lot given their combined contributions as players. As he embarks upon the final few months of a special career, Kruis has set himself the challenge of matching the same international standards in a second career path.

"Not for the pat on the back," he assures. "But for the amount you can learn, the different people [you meet] and the more rounded a person you can be." With that kind of modesty and an effective approach to helping people live more healthily, FourFive looks dressed to the nines in its journey to become a major market player.

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