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