Kyle Sinckler on his Rugby World Cup memories: ‘I remember England tearing it up in 2003 and I wanted to be Jason Robinson’

England prop’s rugby education is a deep-rooted one, and though the dream of dazzling on the wing for his country is long gone, he returns to the scene of one of his low points determined to ‘be the best version of myself’

Jack de Menezes
Saturday 17 August 2019 09:11
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Rugby World Cup 2019: England's 31-man squad

When England cross the Severn on Saturday, there will not quite be the same feeling on the England team bus. There is something special about a Wales versus England clash inside the Principality Stadium, but when it comes in the form of a second Rugby World Cup warm—up clash in six days, the stakes are somewhat reduced.

Both teams will have their different motives for Saturday’s collision. Wales will be keen to show the rusty performance at Twickenham last weekend was a one-off, while England will hope to continue their foray into building new relationships between players who are combining for just the second time in some key areas in the back-row and at half-back in particular.

There’s also the threat of injury looming over Cardiff, and with Gareth Anscombe’s World Cup-wrecking knee damage fresh in the memory, all 46 players involved on Saturday will be keen to emerge from the clash with a clean bill of health, which naturally will lower the intensity ever so slightly.

But there is one player who is raring to go. Kyle Sinckler had to sit and watch at Twickenham after being left out of the matchday squad, which is not something the tighthead prop does too well.

I’m a rugby player. I want to play rugby, Sinckler said. I’m not very good at just sitting around. I want to keep busy.

That’s handy then, because in Japan he will be one of just two tighthead props in the England squad after Eddie Jones made the surprise decision to omit Harry Williams from his 31-man squad. Sinckler is set to travel to Japan as the first-choice No 3, although Dan Cole’s resurgence this year does give him something to worry about with the Leicester prop starting once again on Saturday.

If Sinckler comes on it will be his 23rd cap for England in a story that started off three years ago, which includes plenty of highs and lows along the way. “Obviously my first cap will stand out,” recalled the Harlequins prop. South Africa at home. I remember waiting on the bench for a while we were winning by 23 points and I thought ‘I am going to get on quite early here’. Then it went to 20 minutes left, 15, 10 and I was like ‘oh my god I am not going to get on!’

I ended up playing nine minutes. It was nerve-wracking waiting.

Then came the British and Irish Lions tour, where Sinckler emerged as one of the world’s brightest young tightheads in the game. But he had already experienced another career high a few months before, when England went to Cardiff and stunned Warren Gatland’s side in the form of a thrilling 21-16 victory.

“Winning in Cardiff a couple of years ago, when Elliot Daly scored in the corner, that was good,” he added. Winning the Six Nations was a big achievement for me as that was the first thing I had won as a player.

My first start in Ireland in the Six Nations was incredible in that atmosphere although disappointing as Ireland won the game (2017). Just to have the privilege of starting for my country, and to play with guys like Mako (Vunipola) and Dylan (Hartley) was a big thing for me.

This past year there has been some highs. Australia at home, the All Blacks where we narrowly missed out, there has been some big highs and low lows. International rugby is like a rollercoaster. When you win it’s the best feeling in the world as you are representing so many people, but when you lose you have the whole weight of expectation of the country on your shoulders. We feel it more than anyone. It is one of those things. I try to stay on an even keel. If we win it is onto the next one, if we lose it’s not as bad as they say you have to keep trucking along.

Kyle Sinckler returns to Wales determined to be the ‘best version of himself’

Whatever the result on Saturday, it will be slightly easier for Sinckler to focus on the road ahead given that the World Cup is very much in full view. Having broken into the squad a year after Jones took charge of the national team, it will be the first time that the 26-year-old has played at a World Cup, though as he is quick to point out “there’s a lot of hard work still to be done”.

It will, however, be a chance for Sinckler to make some more memories. What emerged very early on the Lions tour is how deep Sinckler’s rugby education runs, given that he can recite Jim Telfer’s inspiring team talk from the 1997 series by the word, among many other special Lions moments. That goes for the World Cup too, although growing up as a young boy in Tooting, it wasn’t Phil Vickery or Andrew Sheridan who he harboured hopes of emulating.

“I’ve watched all of them. 2003 when we won it, 2007 when we lost in the final (that was) brutal,” he said. I remember we got pumped by South Africa in the first game and I thought: ‘this isn’t going to be good’ but we got to the final. I watched them at home with my mum. Anything to do with England and sport rugby, cricket, football I love it. 2011 was a bit disappointing losing to France, 2015 I watched it as well.

They had a massive impact on me. I remember watching Jason Robinson tearing it up in 2003 and I wanted to be Jason Robinson. Then I looked in the mirror and I thought I’d probably go with Jason Leonard. I was still a back then but not for too much longer.

“They do have a massive impact and we realise we have a massive responsibility to deliver and to be successful.”

Sinckler will have to wait for his introduction after being named on the bench

Sinckler would not be drawn on the Six Nations clash in Cardiff last February where he became the story of the match, through no help of the man who picked him on the Lions tour in Warren Gatland. The Wales boss pinpointed Sinckler’s short fuse before the match, and the Kiwi appeared vindicated when midway through the second half he conceded two swift penalties before being replaced, leading to Gatland using the word “demons” to describe Sinckler’s mental state afterwards.

But what happened between kick-off and Sinckler’s exit was one of the best tighthead performances of the entire Six Nations, which lead to Gatland admitting on Thursday that his words had come back to bite him. Jones protected the prop on that February evening and he has done so ever since to enable his rise to becoming the first choice in the number three shirt. There is a sense that Jones is doing that once more this weekend, taking him out of the firing line and introducing him from the bench to fly under the radar. But what has Sinckler done himself to help ensure he is making the most of his talent?

“One of my biggest work-ons is to sometimes sit back and give myself a pat on the back,” he revealed. I don’t stand still and tell myself ‘I’m doing well, it’s onto the next thing’. I tell myself: ‘It was an OK performance, I need to improve on this and be better on that.’

I know I still have a long way to go and I have a job to do whether it is starting or coming off the bench or running on with the water. But I’m ready to do whatever for the team.

Sinckler turned in one of the great tighthead prop performances

I review everything. Every detail. Everything I do, to see how I can improve. I’m not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. For me I’ve got to let it go and move on. I don’t really hold on to things I’ve done good and things I’ve done bad. It’s just ‘ok onto the next game’ because if you hold onto it that will hinder the next game and the next game after that.

As I said before I don’t want to just be standing still. I always want to keep improving. My goal is to be the best I can be, the best version of myself. That is working as hard as I can, making the most of this moment, because it’s not going to last forever. There will be a lot more tightheads and a lot more players playing after we’re done. We’ve just got to make the most of this opportunity.

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