After England’s comfortable if not entirely comprehensive victory against Italy, Eddie Jones explained how he believes Kyle Sinckler – named the official man of the match – can become the best in the world in his position. Sinckler, however, was just happy to be back on the pitch again.
In part that is because Sinckler missed England’s dismal defeat by Scotland, due to suspension for swearing at a referee, but such is the 27-year-old’s social conscience that his time on the sidelines was all the more frustrating. For Sinckler is acutely aware elite athletes are in the minority in being allowed to play sport during lockdown, that grassroots clubs remain in limbo up and down the country, and he acknowledges the additional responsibility that brings.
Sinckler has spoken before about his struggles in childhood, the difficulties in coping without a steady father figure, while developing his love for rugby playing for Battersea Ironsides in south London. He now sees himself as a role model for inner-city youngsters and that outlook has helped him to process his latest on-field transgression.
There were mitigating circumstances – Sinckler was infuriated by the tackle from fellow England front-rower Luke Cowan-Dickie and the disciplinary hearing heard how the prop’s “whole career flashed before him”. But Sinckler admits: “The easiest thing I could have done is blame externally and look for excuses. But I hold my hands up, I came to the understanding of how much of an inspiration you are to the younger generation and how much they do look up to you.
“I just want to set a good example to the kids. Just let them know the easy thing would be to blame external [things], but you’ve also got to take full responsibility for your actions. That’s what I’ve tried to do and hopefully people saw how much it means to me just to play rugby.
“The work I do with my mentor just helps me get clarity on certain situations. I think it just comes with age. Obviously my background is a little bit different, I’ve gone through some stuff earlier on in my life outside of rugby and I think it’s just dealing with that trauma.
“It is very sad in terms of the grassroots sports, not just for rugby but for every sport. My little brother and sister, they play football, rugby, tennis, and at the moment they are just stuck at home. Eddie made the point in our team talk, 8.7 million people watched our game last week and you can only imagine how many of them are kids that look up to us.”
The hot-headed streak that led to his outburst is something Sinckler is evidently learning to deal with but, as Jones says, it has not entirely gone away. “He’s still a jungle tiger and jungle tigers can always go. But in the most [part] he behaves like a zoo tiger with the fight of a jungle tiger so we just have to keep managing that.”
The next test will come against Wales on Saturday week as Sinckler returns to the Principality Stadium, having boiled over in Cardiff two years ago. In the buildup to that match Warren Gatland, who was Wales head coach at the time, described Sinckler as an “emotional time bomb” and, while England’s tighthead was nigh-on unplayable for an hour, amid constant provocation from the home side he reacted.
Sinckler has since claimed his actions “cost a team a grand slam” but Jones prefers to focus on the player’s development in both a personal and playing sense. “I just see him maturing massively as a rugby player,” he said. “He was a hot-headed individual type with a lot of potential and now what we’re seeing is a maturing, professional, committed player who is producing performances consistently now. He’s going to be close to being the best tighthead in the world and that’s his target, that’s where we want him to get.”