The PRP is going to have a lot of new faces this year as the competition takes another step forward. One of those new faces is Niku Kruger, a Eagles World Cup veteran and heir apparent at scrumhalf, who will join Glendale. We caught up with him to talk about the World Cup and his move to Glendale.
PRP: You went from playing with Kutztown, to getting invited into Eagles camp, and then making the World Cup. What have the last 12 months been like for you?
Niku Kruger: The past 12 months have been incredible. I still remember flying to Vegas to play sevens with Kutztown and chatting to my friends about my plans after graduation. Boy was I wrong about what was going to happen after graduation… I went from playing on one the biggest stages in college rugby to playing on the biggest stage in world rugby in a matter of months. Now that everything has died down and I am back to ‘normal’ life I still have to giggle to myself sometimes when I think about the past 12 months. I have been incredibly blessed over the past few months and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for USA Rugby.
PRP: What were your emotions when you found out you were on the World Cup team?
NK: Growing up playing rugby you always dream about what it would be like playing in a World Cup against the world’s best but never do actually think you will get that chance. Coach Tolkin called us into a room early one morning while we were in Chicago and told us that will be representing the United States at the Rugby World Cup. Emotions kind of took over. I wasn’t sure if I should cry or if I should laugh. It was an amazing feeling to know that all the hard work and tough times all paid off. My roommate, Mike Petri, said he looked over at me when Tolks told us and he said it looked like I was deer in headlights. I couldn’t really believe I actually made it. What an amazing moment it was.
PRP: You started against South Africa, the country you grew up in. What was that experience like?
NK: That entire week was just a massive wave of emotion for me. From when I was told I would be starting to when we actually got onto the field. Growing up in South Africa you watch the Springboks play week in and week out. As a kid you dream of putting on that jersey and playing for your country. I was so incredibly humbled at the opportunity to play against some of the men that I have looked up to in rugby career. I was even more humbled to pull the Eagles jersey over my head with the #9 on the back for the first time and sing the American National Anthem on rugby’s biggest stage. I remember running out of the tunnel and actually having to giggle because at that moment I realized what I was about to do. That weekend was filled with ‘first times’ for me. A moment in my life I will never forget.
PRP: What is your favorite memory from the World Cup?
NK: I don’t think I would be able to choose one favorite memory. The entire World Cup has to be my favorite memory because what I went through and had to do to finally achieve this lifelong dream.
PRP: You’ve now graduated from Kutztown and will be playing for Glendale next year. How did the move to Glendale come about?
NK: When I travelled to South America with USA Selects I spoke to multiple players about where to go and play after I graduated. I spoke to Chad London and Zach Fignolio about Glendale. They both spoke so highly of Coach Andre and the program. I decided to send Coach Andre and email and ask him about the club and where he thought the club was going. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and the love for the game that he showed during our talks. I decided it would be a great place to start my post college rugby career.
PRP: What attracted you to Glendale?
NK: I watched a bunch of their games online. I really enjoyed the type of rugby they played during the PRP season. The facilities that the club has to offer also provided me with some of the best opportunities to put my rugby career on the fast track. In the end that was very important to me. I wanted to make sure I would be able to improve as a player and take my play to the next level.
PRP: Going forward, how important will it be for your Eagles career to play in the PRP?
NK: Going from playing in college to playing in the World Cup was a massive jump for me. The game is much faster and much more physically demanding. I wasn’t use to it and it took me some time to get used to it. Playing in the PRP, one of the top leagues in America, will give me the opportunity to play at higher level more consistently so if I get another chance to play for the Eagles I can perform more consistently and ultimately become a better player.
PRP: This is your first time in the PRP. What were your impressions of the competition before you joined?
NK: I knew it was going to be one of the top leagues in America and that it would be super competitive. I watched a bunch of the games online and that really got me excited. I could see that it was a much more physical game than college and that the opposition was much more constant.