Hale Editions 02: George Kruis
We caught up with former Saracens, England and Lions international George Kruis to talk rugby, retirement, Japan, investing in Hale Clothing and deciding to go all in as an entrepreneur
March 24, 2022
Firstly, how are you?
I'm good thank you. Looking forward to my last couple of months as a rugby player but also making the most out my time left in Japan. It's exciting, there's still plenty to play for (currently for the Saitama Wild Knights in Japan's Top League) and we're hoping to finish the season on a high with a trophy. It would be a nice way to sign off.
How have you found life in Japan since making the move in 2020?
Ridiculous! But in the best way possible. I've always been one to seek out more memories and experiences and this move is something I'm so glad I've done for so many reasons. I originally signed up for one season and had to sign up for another because I was enjoying it so much. It's somewhere that's completely different to the UK and Europe and I like to think that I've really embraced that. It's not just a completely different country, it's like a different world – the culture, food, even the sport – the way they play is different to what I was used to so it's been an amazing experience.
What do you love most about living in Japan?
The food. It's something I'm really going to miss. You're spoilt for choice here with restaurants, even the ones that are supposed to be average are amazing. Saying all that I actually haven't had a Sunday roast since I've been out here so I'm looking forward to that when I get back in a couple of months time. Also the weather, especially over winter – blue skies almost every day, cold, but hardly any rain, which for someone who does most of their work outside has been a bit of a blessing! Finally the culture. Understanding it, learning about it and embracing it has been something I'll never forget.
"The food is something I'm really going to miss. You're spoilt for choice here with restaurants, even the ones that are supposed to be average are amazing."
How big a change has it been transitioning from the intensity of England and Saracens to the Japanese rugby league?
It's a very different game here. In the UK and the Northern Hemisphere it's more set piece driven with much finer margins, territory, thinking within the game – trying to squeeze teams and break teams down, whereas here, it's all out attack. Everything is more geared towards a southern hemisphere style of play which has been brilliant because I've now had the opportunity to play both styles. I'd say I'm probably more suited to the slower pace, set-piece game but I've really enjoyed having the chance to get stuck in to a different style of rugby.
Have you been following English rugby much while you've been away?
I do like to keep in touch with what's happening back home, both following the news and talking to mates. I watch the majority of the internationals, as much as I can really in between the day to day work of game reviews, analysis and training for the league here. Having played for Saracens for nearly 13 years it's pretty hard to not check in and watch the games when I can.
Let's talk international rugby. It's tighter now than ever isn't it?
I think it is, yeah. It's so good to see the likes of France coming back into it and Scotland starting to do better as of late. I think there's been a bit of a levelling across the board – some of the better teams have started to dip a little in the last year or two, New Zealand for example. It's huge for rugby and builds excitement around what could be a really competitive World Cup and it's great to see more competition, different people winning and not just one or two teams completely dominating things.
"I think there's been a bit of levelling out across the board – some of the better teams have started to dip a little in the last year or two, New Zealand for example. It's huge for rugby and builds excitement around what it could be a really competitive World Cup."
Does any part of you feel like you've missed out by going to Japan?
Sure. But for me it's always been about weighing up what is the best option for me, what do I want out of life? I was desperate to try something new. I grew up in South London, then moved to North London, but I didn't want that to be it – I wanted to gain some new experiences, see more of the world before my next move. Yes, I was playing for England regularly and playing some good rugby when I made the decision and that was incredibly tough to decide to move away from that. The idea was to go for a year and then come back and try to get back into the mix of things again, Premiership Rugby, England... but when I was out here I found the experience so beneficial, and the way the seasons work here I've also had more time to spend on growing my business. It's not like it was an easy decision but it felt right for me at the time and my experiences here have 100% made me feel like it was the right decision. It's certainly not a move that I regret in the slightest.
On that note, you've recently announced your retirement from rugby. Was your decision made any harder with the World Cup coming up next year?
You could say that, yes. It was a big decision to stay out here for another year, then recently deciding to retire from rugby completely at the end of the season. I do feel I have more left in the tank even at 32, especially playing in a position where experience is really sought after... but I've got such a good opportunity now outside of rugby and that's really helped me make up my mind.
"I do feel I have more left in the tank even at 32, especially playing in a position where experience is really sought after."
It must be a bit of a challenge trying to balance growing a business whilst training, playing and performing every week.
100%. This has been so tough trying to balance it all, and I don't think it's one for all players. I often come home and do a fair few hours post rugby training and it can be hard to stay focused, especially after more intense sessions when you're working on pitches for investments and so on. It's been a great learning curve for me to work out how to manage both but now it's a great opportunity for me to go back to putting all my energy and focus into one thing. I do also think it's hugely important to do something outside of just rugby, otherwise you risk becoming very one dimensional. If you have a bad game or fall out of form you have nothing else to focus on and it can be a real test mentally with nothing to distract you. To be able to get excited about something else as well as rugby has been really important for me over the last few years of my career.
How exciting is it to know you’re going to be able to dedicate more of your time to your business, FourFive, going forward?
Very. I know I'm in a privileged position where I've got something to work on outside of rugby and I'm really excited to be able to retire on my own terms and start building FourFive (A CBD wellness brand co-founded with his business partner and fellow rugby player Dominic Day). We've already got a great team of seven working with myself and Dom and we're right at the beginning of where we can get to with it all – we're already in with retailers such as Boots and starting to build partnerships with other influential companies and individuals so it's very exciting times.
What's the story behind the business?
In 2018 myself and Dom set it up off the back off a few injuries earlier that year. Around the same time we were in recovery WADA had taken CBD off the banned list. We'd heard good things about it so we both gave it a go and found it gave us a lot of benefits, mainly around recovery but also noticed that there weren't a lot of options around that we could really trust, especially for athletes like us that are regularly tested. This really gave us the idea to try and create our own product and brand and it's gone from strength to strength since then. Although we started out focused on CBD oils we are diversifying more into wellness, and developing other products to compliment the CBD range.
"In 2018 myself and Dom Day set up FourFive. We'd heard good things about CBD but there weren't many options around that we could really trust... this gave us the idea to try and create our own product and brand and it's gone from strength to strength since then."
You're also an investor in Hale Clothing. What was it about the brand that made you want to invest?
I think the brand itself is very strong, both visually and what it stands for, as well as the quality of the clothing. The most important thing is that Hale is providing more options for people with more athletic body shapes – it's pretty hard for me to find stylish gear that is also comfortable and fits well so it certainly solves a problem there. For me, the quality and thinking that has gone into the development of the brand and the products really sets it apart. The values and the experience of the people involved in creating the company was something that I was very attracted to... it's hugely important to have quality in the right areas, and if you look at the team it's very obvious that it's got huge potential.
Nutrition and doing things the right way is important to us. What would be your ‘go to’ healthy meal?
Back in the UK I'd have been more consistent when it comes to eating, especially when prepping for training and games. But over here there's such an abundance of incredibly good food that I've really enjoyed mixing things up. Principles of my nutrition now would be aiming to be consistent in terms of portion sizes and making sure there's the right balance and a healthy plate. But overall I've been really trying to add variety and try new meals, foods and experiences.
What's your favourite memory from your career?
You remember specific games, finals, internationals, hard won encounters – I wouldn't say that I have one stand out favourite. This is maybe a little clichéd but the bigger thing is that it's given me an opportunity to make as many amazing memories as possible. Especially being at Saracens which gave me so many on field opportunities but also the off field stuff, they had such a big emphasis on the social, team building side, trips, culture and so on. I guess the ability to have been able to go to the World Cup in Japan and have so many friends and family come over and experience that, follow the journey and have such a great time off the back of that was a wonderful thing to share. That definitely makes me more proud than any specific game or trophy.
"You remember specific games, finals, internationals, hard won encounters – but I wouldn't say that I have one stand out favourite. This is maybe a little clichéd but the bigger thing is that it's given me an opportunity to make as many amazing memories as possible."
What other sports do you like watching?
Football, a bit of cricket, but to be honest I'm more enjoying watching less sport and focusing on the business. Although when something like the Ashes comes along it's hard not to get sucked in. It would be great to be able to head down to Australia and watch a series like that – certainly one for the bucket list!
How important is for you to look and feel good off the pitch?
Well, I'm not the sort of person to wander around in Louis Vuitton. For me it's to look presentable for the occasion you're at. Appearance is a huge thing, but I'm not hung up on it and as long as I feel I'm looking presentable then great. I'm a bit more of a practical person so anything I wear has to be comfortable, with a much more athletic body shape, larger arms, bigger legs comfort is super important to me day to day. There aren't enough companies out there that focus on the comfort level of menswear especially when you have a different body shape. Hale understand that comfort and fit are just as important as style, so that's a good thing for people like me.
"There aren't enough companies out there that focus on the comfort level of menswear especially when you have a different body shape. Hale understand that comfort and fit are just as important as style, so that's a good thing for people like me."
What about for a night out or a special occasion?
I'm pretty straightforward. The classic shirt, jeans and shoes always suits me pretty nicely. You won't catch me wearing turtle necks and blazers. As long as I'm not looking too offensive, I'm fine!
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