England rugby’s star second row, George Kruis writes about being part of a winning culture at Saracens, getting Rugby World Cup ready and advocates for alternative therapies like CBD Oil which he’s invested in with fellow lock, Dominic Day.

More often than not, these days players retire at Saracens rather than get pushed.

It speaks volumes for the loyalty and support that the club breeds.

It’s a club with a long-term view. They invest a lot of time and money integrating the club into the wider community and creating a legacy behind everything the club achieves.

There’s also a culture of building a strong bond within the team. It might be an old cliché but it’s true that you’ll give more on the field when you’re playing for people you know. You have to care about what happens as much for them as for yourself.

It’s a culture that’s evolved over decades from the Francois Pienaar era and the early days of professionalism.

When I started, things were quite different. As a young academy player, we were told how tough it can be to break through, but I had no idea how ruthless the game can be at that level.

George Kruis in action for Saracens against Connacht in a pre-season friendly in 2010. ©INPHO/James Crombie

George Kruis in action for Saracens against Connacht in a pre-season friendly in 2010. ©INPHO/James Crombie

In my first season at Saracens in 2009, Brendan Venter, the former South African centre had taken over as coach. In one of his first acts he culled the first-team squad of 18 players, including some of the biggest names at the club in what became known as Black Monday.

I was still in the academy which was its own little bubble. We were building our own thing among our group which included guys like Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Will Fraser, Jackson Wray. Mako came in later, so did Billy. A group of hard-working players that wanted to keep building and building.

As ruthless as Black Monday was, it was an opportunity for young players like us. Along with that Academy group and some really smart signings, it was almost like hitting a reset button. A new era had started with an emphasis on the successful culture you see at Sarries today. Venter started that process of changing the club’s priorities.

Saracens' George Kruis and Maro Itoje celebrate defeating Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup Final, St. James' Park, Newcastle, England 11/5/2019 ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Saracens’ George Kruis and Maro Itoje celebrate defeating Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup Final, St. James’ Park, Newcastle, England 11/5/2019 ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

I had a couple of years towards the business end of two seasons where I picked up injuries, so it was 2014 when I won my first England cap under Stuart Lancaster.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup was a campaign that clearly didn’t go to plan. There were a few second rows starting ahead of me, so I watched most of it from the bench, but as a group that was a tough one to go through, especially the aftermath.

Essentially after a poor tournament there is always change and Stuart and a number of coaches moved on.

Stuart was never a bad coach. He put a lot of the groundwork in place that led to the Grand Slam in 2016 and a run of 18 wins.

He capped me so I will always be grateful to him for that. It’s great to hear from the guys at Leinster that he is doing great things over there. He is coaching and dealing a lot less with the stuff a head coach has to.

It’s nice seeing people who have gone through tough periods come out the other end and get the respect they deserve.

George Kruis and Chris Robshaw following defeat to Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Twickenham, London. 3/10/2015 ©INPHO/James Crombie

George Kruis and Chris Robshaw following defeat to Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Twickenham, London. 3/10/2015 ©INPHO/James Crombie

Now we’re on the brink of another Rugby World Cup. There has been a lot of hard work and focus on putting ourselves in a position to compete with the best.

In the Six Nations we played some very good rugby, but we also understand there were some bad moments too – a bad half against Scotland, another against Wales. It’s something that we will have to learn from. Getting an extended period of time together in camp is huge.

Everyone is looking forward to the challenges ahead and representing the nation over in Japan.

I reckon rugby players go into most games not feeling 100% between niggles and other things that might hinder preparation.

I’ve had seven operations in my career. Each time, it’s a setback. Your job is to present yourself fit and ready to play at the weekend, so injury puts a stop to your primary task in everyday life. That can be tough, mentally as well as physically.

That’s why we constantly push ourselves to be available for selection. It’s a self-inflicted pressure and most of the time it’s what you need to get yourself back to playing however sometimes that pressure can be detrimental. Awareness of your own health and listening to your body is vital as a player.

That’s what led me to go into business with, my then teammate, Dom Day, producing and selling and advocating for use of CBD oil as an alternative therapy and food supplement.

Most especially in our sport I believe we need to understand and explore alternative therapies.

Yes, there were a few raised eyebrows, because it’s a hemp extract and awareness and understanding of the product and its effects is still low.

When it was taken off the banned substance list, Dom used CBD following an operation.  I had an ankle operation and he suggested I give it a go. Not long after that we set up FourFive CBD.

First thing you’re told about recovery is to rest. I used the CBD oil to achieve a deeper and better sleep. It brings a calmness to the body. The by-product of quality sleep is energy each and every day – on the most basic level that made so much sense to me.

Saracens’ George Kruis and Dom Day celebrate after winning their Heineken Champions Cup Round 4 match against Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales 15/12/2018 ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Saracens’ George Kruis and Dom Day celebrate after winning their Heineken Champions Cup Round 4 match against Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales 15/12/2018 ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

There’s been plenty said and written about pill popping in rugby for treatment of pain. None of us want to have to regularly use medicine to treat pain. The appeal of a natural alternatives is easy to see.

This isn’t new…

Cannabis and hemp have been used for thousands of years in various therapies. Its an alternative, its 100% natural and has a strong safety profile so it ticks all the boxes for me as long as its presented a way that is suitable for athletes to use.

We’re fully aware that many nutritionists won’t recommend a product with traces of THC, so we have sourced a Zero THC product range that is third party batch tested for cross contamination of banned substances by BSCG, a gold standard testing body. This range is specially for tested athletes and personal that are tested in the workplace.

Saracens have been massively supportive of us since we launched the business.

Rugby careers tend to end earlier these days so many pros set up businesses while they’re still playing as a succession plan. Thankfully we’ve a positive culture at Sarries and that support is something I am always grateful for.

George,

August 2019.

To find out more about FourFive CBD visit https://www.fourfivecbd.co.uk/

If you enjoyed George’s piece you might like to read Stephen Ferris’ – “The Ghosts of World Cups Past”

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