Thursday 22 February 2018

Obsessive Kruis does hard yards

George Kruis playing for England against Ireland at the Aviva. Photo: Getty Images
George Kruis playing for England against Ireland at the Aviva. Photo: Getty Images

Gavin Mairs

This afternoon, as he does every Sunday, George Kruis will sit in front of his laptop and begin watching clips of line-out footage.

The laborious task is likely to take hours but the Saracens and England lock says even his girlfriend Sarah is "getting to grips" with his devotion to line-out analysis on the day of rest. Kruis regards his Sunday sessions as one of the most important periods of his week, a time when the line-out caller for both club and country fine-tunes the detail that can make or break his side's hopes.

This afternoon his subject is Clermont Auvergne, Saracens' opponents in the Champions' Cup final at Murrayfield next Saturday, and the stakes could not be higher. The Top 14 side will arrive in Edinburgh with a formidable set of forwards, armed with the firepower to meet head-on Saracens' gladiatorial pack, which has once again powered Mark McCall's side into the final.

For Kruis - whose rise to become one of the most impressive second-row operators in the northern hemisphere is reflected in his Lions selection despite missing most of the season with injuries - the preparation will be critical.

Armed with comprehensive footage of the Clermont line-out supplied by the Saracens coaching staff, he will examine the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and draw up a strategy to give his side the set-piece edge.

"You treat it like any other passage of the game," Kruis said. "I think you learn what their strengths are and their weaknesses are and you match them up to depend on what we want as a team.

"You match your strengths against their weaknesses and vice-versa. There are a lot of variables when you are actually out there but I think around 60 or 70 per cent is preparation and the other 30 per cent is what you do on the field."

At Saracens, Kruis is following in the dedicated footsteps of line-out technicians such as Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard, with England now benefiting from their expertise.

"They are very different characters, but George learned a lot from Steve and is very diligent about how he does it," said McCall. "His calling - his confidence and authority with the pack - has got better and better to the point where it is outstanding now." Kruis, however, has put his own spin on the line-out analysis: "If you want to be the best in the world at anything you have to have an obsession. I have been part of a group that has had Paul Gustard, who is very dedicated, Hugh Vyvyan, Hadyn Smith - players in the past who have sculpted the way for Maro [Itoje] and myself. You do what the people in front of you do and learn."

On Tuesday, Kruis will gather with his fellow line-out jumpers and forwards coach Ian Peel to discuss strategy.

Other callers such as Itoje will have an input into the throwing decisions while the 'non-jumpers' will assist with defence. The detail will enable the Saracens starting pack to hold a line-out session against fellow team-mates, who will throw and defend as they expect Clermont to do on Saturday for real.


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