Kyle Sinck­ler

Quick to laugh and keen to soak up knowl­edge, prop Kyle Sinck­ler is thriv­ing on New Zealand’s shores


THERE ARE no hid­ing places on this trip; the walls have eyes. Any in­frac­tion by a mem­ber of the of­fi­cial Lions group and the guilty party will feel the full weight of the law. No one is safe ei­ther – so far on this tour one of the in­ter­nal me­dia team has had to wear their No 1 suit for three days straight be­cause their hair­cut had been deemed un­ac­cept­able, while one of the em­bed­ded pho­tog­ra­phers re­ceived the same pun­ish­ment for the heinous crime of get­ting a mas­sage.

“Yeah, I have been fined,” a grin­ning Kyle Sinck­ler says af­ter train­ing, show­ing scant signs of the panic he will no doubt feel later on, when the pun­ish­ment is fully re­alised. “I’ve got a two-minute per­for­mance to do in front of the boys. I got fined for wear­ing the wrong kit in train­ing but the boys are wait­ing to stitch you up any­way, so I’m not even sure I was wear­ing any wrong kit. I don’t know what I’ll do, maybe a two-minute dance? I thought of a two-minute plank but the boys said no.”

As if to high­light the level of ruth­less­ness on this trip, in quick suc­ces­sion Ge­orge North and James Haskell noise up Sinck­ler on their way past, lightly goad­ing him for talk­ing to a jour­nal­ist. Un­de­terred, Sinck­ler ex­plains: “It’s been good ban­ter. Haskell and Sean O’Brien are al­ways keep­ing you on your toes, plus Ben Te’o. You have to be care­ful.”

Sinck­ler has come across, at least to those satel­lite tourists who run along­side the

camp, as the ideal Lion. Self-dep­re­cat­ing and char­i­ta­ble with his time, hon­est but also brim­ming with am­bi­tion; if his rea­sons for lov­ing time in Lions red aren’t writ­ten all over his face, he will tell a room he is in “rugby heaven” on tour. On the field he has been ad­ven­tur­ous too, mak­ing bust­ing runs as well as hus­tling within an ag­gres­sive scrum unit.

A prime ex­am­ple of his gen­eros­ity oc­curred be­fore the first game, when Sky cap­tured a short clip of the English tight­head giv­ing a Kiwi se­cu­rity guard some prac­ti­cal scrum­mag­ing point­ers in down­town Whangarei. Sinck­ler re­calls: “That was fun. I was go­ing in to do an in­ter­view with Scott Quin­nell. The se­cu­rity guard came up and asked me for some tips about scrum­mag­ing, so I was like: ‘Okay!’ He was say­ing that he had a game in a few hours.”

There is lit­tle down­time for these play­ers. Yes, they get to head into the cen­tre of any des­ti­na­tion, with the ‘cof­fee club’ of Te’o, Owen Far­rell, El­liot Daly, Jamie Ge­orge and Johnny Sexton more of­ten the ad­vanced search party. The lo­cal cin­ema may see some evening trade. But the city-hop­ping of a Lions tour means that if the squad land in a hub on a Sun­day for a Tues­day game, it’s about hun­ker­ing down, train­ing on Mon­day and then leav­ing again af­ter the night match, as they did in Hamil­ton.

Har­lequin Kyle is not fazed by the re­cep­tion or sights of these brief so­journs, though, and at­tributes time spent in New Zealand with Eng­land’s tour in 2014 as a help. So this time, when he flicks on the telly and sees rugby on three dif­fer­ent chan­nels, in­clud­ing a school game, he is not per­plexed.

Mind you, he tries to study for ev­ery even­tu­al­ity – on the pitch at least. He’s al­ready ben­e­fited from the im­part­ing of knowl­edge from for­mer Lions and Wales star Adam Jones, now a player-coach at Quins. Then, when he learnt he would be a Lion him­self, Sinck­ler ramped up the ques­tion­ing.

“I have asked ques­tions of older guys, es­pe­cially the front-rows and sec­ond-rows,” Sinck­ler says of his in­qui­si­tions. “Ev­ery day I had ques­tions for Adam Jones. He’s been a mas­sive help for me in my ca­reer to date. He helps me not just with rugby but life lessons and how to han­dle cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Fair play to Conor O’Shea and John Kingston, firstly to Conor for sign­ing him at Quins and sec­ondly to John for keep­ing him on, now as a player-coach. Hope­fully he sticks around for as long as pos­si­ble be­cause he has been a great men­tor to me.”

Some­times those life lessons go hand in hand with the rugby lessons. Ear­lier on the tour, while talk­ing about the con­stant di­a­logue he has with Quins, Eng­land and now Lions team-mate Joe Mar­ler (who has had his own on-field is­sues in the past), Sinck­ler re­vealed that he had re­ceived a shot across his bow from Jones and an­other se­nior Quin, ex-Wallaby cap­tain James Hor­will. He was con­sis­tently act­ing out on the pitch, dis­play­ing un­nec­es­sary histri­on­ics. We will never know but per­haps if he had not got­ten a quick dress­ing-down from the pair, his ca­reer could have been vastly dif­fer­ent.

Sinck­ler pon­ders this. “It’s hard to say but once you get la­belled with a tag of be­ing a li­a­bil­ity to the team, it’s hard to come back from. I’m just thank­ful that Adam and James had a chat with me. It was strange, it kind of just flicked the switch. I didn’t change then and there, I still make mis­takes now and then, but not as fre­quently as I was.

“I think it’s a grow­ing-up process as well. As you get older you learn that there’s got to be a big­ger pic­ture – you can’t al­ways go around do­ing things that are go­ing to af­fect the team. No one is big­ger than the team. And it’s great be­ing around guys like that for club and coun­try, and here it is all about the team. Every­one has a mas­sive buy-in and putting their own per­sonal feel­ings aside. We’re all in it to­gether. We’re build­ing a good cul­ture.

“I just think you’d be a bit of an id­iot if you didn’t (ask ques­tions of) some­one like Adam Jones at your club, or Dan Cole at Eng­land, or Joe Mar­ler or Rory Best. With them sit­ting be­side you, why wouldn’t you ask them things and try to learn stuff off them? I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it.

“It would be good to learn from their mis­takes as well, or try cer­tain tech­niques to see if they work for you be­cause they’ve been do­ing it for how­ever many years, so they must be do­ing some­thing right. The aim for each of us, the younger play­ers, is to try to stay in this po­si­tion for as long as pos­si­ble. Get­ting lit­tle tips off those guys is a mas­sive thing for me.”

The idea of learn­ing comes up time and again. The tight­head is ever-chang­ing, as any young prop must. Sinck­ler be­lieves he is adding to a Rolodex in his head too; an in­ter­nal data­base of knowl­edge about play­ers he has faced and will face. He won’t re­veal what he knows of the All Blacks’ loose­heads, on record, but it is safe to say he has in­tri­cate de­tails on their tech­niques. But is he like that with ev­ery­day life too?

“The boys al­ways give me a bit of ban­ter for know­ing weird facts about sport, in foot­ball and rugby. They’ll want to do a lit­tle quiz and I’ll ask them ques­tions on the coach, to keep time tick­ing by. I’m more of a rou­tine guy, so once I’ve got my rou­tine down I can do that.

“I’ve got a rou­tine where I’ll wake up early and do ex­tras or stretch­ing or what­ever, but once I’m into my rou­tine I’m sweet. It’ll prob­a­bly take me a bit. So the first week of pre-sea­son will prob­a­bly be a strug­gle, but once I am into my rou­tine I’m good to go.

“I’m very cu­ri­ous. I al­ways want to learn. It’s never re­ally got­ten me in trou­ble, be­cause my mum, Donna, has al­ways kept me in line. She’s been un­be­liev­able for me. She taught me every­thing I know.

“I’m grate­ful to my whole fam­ily re­ally. I’ve got a big fam­ily and we all live re­ally close to each other, so hav­ing my nans and grand­dad, aun­ties and un­cles, cousins – every­one is there and we have a real fam­ily feel. I am just lucky to have a good sup­port sys­tem around me, but ob­vi­ously my mum is at the fore­front of that.

“She’s made a lot of sac­ri­fices for me and I wouldn’t be any­where with­out her and what she has done. I’m a lucky boy!”

Quin-flu­ence Gra­ham Rown­tree and Adam Jones

Mr Mo­ti­va­tor Ask­ing for en­ergy

Se­lec­tion box With Joe Mar­ler

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