- Former Bulls lock Juandre Kruger, who featured 91 times for the union, talks about his premature exit from Pretoria and returning to Cape Town, where his rugby journey started.
- The ex-Springbok lock, who played 17 Tests for the Springboks from 2012 to 2013, reflects on his time in the green and gold and how non-selection led to a successful French sojourn.
- He also explains why Morne Steyn would be one of the first names on the team sheet if he was Springbok coach and why Steyn would add value for the 2021 British & Irish Lions series.
Sport24 asked: Why was your latest stay at the Bulls short-lived?
Juandre Kruger: There have been quite a few managerial changes at the Bulls in the last couple of years and they asked me to come back from France to help them out. Having played in Super Rugby Unlocked, myself and Jake White just had a chat, which was normal. He made mention of the fact that there were opportunities to develop some younger players (in my position) and we made a decision on that and came to a mutual settlement agreement. As someone in sport, I am always competitive and have plenty of ambition. I am still in good form and have a few opportunities on my table. I haven’t decided yet if I am going to continue playing and where, but there has been interest.
Sport24 asked: At 35, what post-rugby plans come to mind?
Juandre Kruger: During lockdown I completed my MBA through Toulouse Business School. My focus was on business development and social media. I have also done my BCom management accountancy, my investment analysis portfolio management and I studied French as a second language. What I have seen throughout my career is that you don’t always see clubs encouraging players to study and prepare for life after rugby. It’s important to be focused on sport - as it your main priority during your playing career – but you should prepare for life after that. There is more than enough time for players to study, start businesses or make wise investments. I have got a few business interests and opportunities. I have invested in some companies and the prospect of being in charge of business development is exciting. I’m at the stage where I have to decide whether I’m going to focus on business because I have three young children whom I have to offer stability. I don’t want to move around too much anymore and, when I reached the agreement with the Bulls, I made quite a big decision to move down to Stellenbosch and put our kids in school there. I want to give my kids both a good quality of life and education and let them grow up in an area I spent my childhood.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to be back where it started?
Juandre Kruger: If you grow up in an area it’s part of your life. I was awarded the Danie Craven Bursary which allowed me to study. I had other offers after school, but I chose Maties and Western Province. I played 35 provincial games for Western Province (at Vodacom Cup level) before signing for the Bulls for the first time in 2008. Western Province as a union is going through a challenging period at the moment. (The off-field drama is overshadowing their on-field performances at present). Their situation is all over the news, which is a real pity because it’s such a wonderful union.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your national career?
Juandre Kruger: We would all like to play 100 Tests but, for me, it doesn’t make a difference as it was a massive privilege to play for my country. From 1891 only 915 individuals have played for the Springboks and to be one of those people is a massive honour. I didn’t go to the 2015 Rugby World Cup which I really trained hard for, but it was Heyneke Meyer’s decision who he wanted to select. I was at the peak of my career, but he opted to bring some older players out of retirement. When one door closes, another opens. I got the opportunity to head to Toulon and it was probably the best part of living in France. I would have loved to have played more than 17 Tests for South Africa and actually came back from France with high ambitions and aspirations to do really well at the Bulls and try and play against the British and Irish Lions in 2021. It didn’t work out, but at least I know that I gave it my best shot. If you set goals and you don’t achieve them then that’s life. You have to move on and set new goals – it’s as easy as that. At national level, I gave it my best shot and could only control the controllables. Doing well with the Springboks gave me the opportunity to get into France.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your six years in France?
Juandre Kruger: I probably played 150 games in the French league in total over six years for Racing 92 and Toulon. I really enjoyed it as it’s a great league to play in. I think the likes of Mourad Boudjellal and Jackie Lorenzetti have changed world rugby in terms of the investments they have made. Pre-Covid when you went to a rugby game in France it was like a show. I think it’s great what the French have done for rugby. To have played in France and experienced it as country was a massive privilege. My wife Monique and I have French citizenship and my three children were born in France. I was fortunate to play in an era where I could enjoy a decade overseas (Kruger also played for the Saints and Scarlets)... I think it’s going to be a very interesting World Cup there in 2023 and there will definitely be a few surprises. I already have my friends in France messaging me about the Cup. I hope the Springboks do really well and it’s good that there are a few South Africans playing in France. I believe it will be an advantage for the Springboks going into the next World Cup.
Sport24 asked: Did you enjoy combining with Eben Etzebeth?
Juandre Kruger: I really enjoyed playing with Eben Etzebeth and thought we started off really well against England in 2012. It was the first time Eben and I played together and we didn’t lose a single lineout. In the circumstances we did really well and better than most people thought we would. It’s great for Eben who has gone on to play 85 Tests for the Springboks. He has won a World Cup and is doing really well at Toulon. I still speak to him occasionally and help him with some French translations. I haven’t watched the video clip (of his altercation with a teammate during the warm-up) and will have to go check it out online. However, from my experience, coaches love it more in France than they do in South Africa because there are more off-the-ball incidents in the French league. Eben is passionate and does have a fiery temper, but that is probably what makes him such a great player. He refuses to take a step back for anyone, which is an advantage. He is a special player.
Sport24 asked: Do you back Morne Steyn to face the British Lions?
Juandre Kruger: Morne is a great player. If I were to select a Springbok team he would be one of the first players I would pick along with Duane Vermeulen. I knew Morne really well as we played together at the Bulls and also went to France. I would really like him to achieve everything that he wants to in the game. I know his abilities as a player and what he can contribute. I would definitely pick him for the British and Irish Lions series. Owing to his attitude and the type of person he is, he has a wonderful impact in a team environment. If you feel that you are not contributing anymore or are not needed in an environment then you should rather not be there. However, Morne is still having a massive impact. The Bulls still need him and I think South Africa could still make use of him.
Sport24 asked: In sport, is it often a case of mind over matter?
Juandre Kruger: A massive factor in sporting success comes down to understanding your subconscious and conscious mind. Your conscious mind is just the tip of the iceberg - 5% - but your subconscious mind is 95%. It’s about what you feed your brain. To offer an example, I can do 50 kick-offs in a week on the training field, but can lie on my bed and do 1000 kick-offs or lineouts in my mind. Replaying scenarios in your mind is as good as doing it. Obviously I would have the physical aspect of training in the week, but you can only train for so many hours a day. In terms of sportsmen I admire, the likes of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods are talented, but the difference between world-class and professional athletes is the subconscious mind. How does someone prepare himself in the environment so he can react under pressure circumstances? Federer only has split seconds to make a decision and the same goes for Woods. For me, that is why those athletes are world-class.