George Kruis makes quick recovery to stay on Warren Gatland’s Lions radar

Gerard Meagher and Paul Rees
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">George Kruis of Saracens, centre, returned from a knee injury injury a week ahead of schedule on Saturday, playing the full 80 minutes against Northampton Saints.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images</span>
George Kruis of Saracens, centre, returned from a knee injury injury a week ahead of schedule on Saturday, playing the full 80 minutes against Northampton Saints. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

George Kruis has sent a message to Warren Gatland before the British & Irish Lions squad is named on Wednesday after once again showing his remarkable powers of recovery this season by returning from knee surgery ahead of schedule.

Kruis, who last Sunday made his first appearance since the operation in January, was name-checked by Gatland last month as still being under consideration despite missing the Six Nations while recovering. Second-row is among the most keenly contested Lions positions but, when fit, and available Kruis has been first choice for Eddie Jones, who has recently described him as England’s best set-piece lock.

In his absence Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes have advanced considerable claims for Lions selection but Kruis played for 80 minutes in Saracens’ victory against Northampton on Sunday, with the Lions assistant coach Steve Borthwick in attendance, having initially been pencilled in to make his return this Saturday against Munster.

Already this season Kruis has been back from injury earlier than expected – he recovered from an ankle injury to play in England’s last two autumn internationals and returned from a broken cheekbone in time to begin the Six Nations before sustaining his knee injury.

“I think fitness is one of my strong points,” he said. “You take confidence from when you have done it before. You take confidence from people around you who have been injured and slotted straight back in. I was pleasantly surprised. I have not had too long to get on my feet and do my fitness so it was always going to be a lung burner.

“It is always frustrating [being injured] but we are in a very good environment to be frustrated in. We have an epic medical team. I know there’s a lot of hype about the Lions selection. I have had such a long year being injured I just want to get back playing. It’s the only thing on my mind. I just enjoy playing rugby.”

Saracens’ victory against Northampton keeps them in the hunt for the top two after wins for Exeter and Wasps, whose player Elliot Daly is expected to become the first Englishman to play for and against the Lions after an impressive season for club and country.

Daly, whose versatility makes him an option on the wing and at full-back, played against the Lions in 2013. Then 20, he lined up for the Barbarians against the tourists in Hong Kong, kicking an early penalty before the invitation side was overrun in the second half. He will be the second England international to achieve the feat after the New Zealand-born Riki Flutey played for Wellington against the Lions in 2005 and then for them in 2009.

The Lions have rarely played matches outside a tour. In 1977, they took on the Barbarians at Twickenham in a match to raise funds for the Jubilee Trust. The Baa-Baas contained three past Welsh Lions, Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams, and two future ones, Ray Gravell and David Richards. After the 1989 tour to Australia, the Lions played France in Paris and they warmed up for the 2005 trip to New Zealand with a match against Argentina in Cardiff.

“I will be training with Wasps when the squad is announced,” Daly said. “I think everyone will be watching, it’s one of those iconic moments in the game which happens every four years. As a player, it is in the back of your mind but all you can do is play well for your club. I hope to be selected but you just don’t know.

“I like playing anywhere on the pitch, whether it is centre, full-back or wing. I don’t mind where I am and just want to do the best for whatever team I am playing for, getting my hands on the ball and trying to influence the game. I just love to be playing rugby and being on the pitch.”

Daly was uncapped when he played against the Lions four years ago, part of a Barbarians team that included Joe Rokocoko, Nick Evans, Dimitri Yachvili and Sergio Parisse. “It was tough,” he said. “We played England at Twickenham and then flew to Hong Kong where the conditions were very warm, to say the least.

“We stuck with them for 50-60 minutes but then they blew us away. They had a side full of quality – Owen Farrell, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies formed the midfield - and to play against them was amazing. You grow up watching international and Lions rugby and appreciate what an honour it is to be involved in sides like that. We watched the announcement four years ago and I hope Wasps have a few boys in the squad.”

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