Rugby World Cup 2019: Kyle Sinckler opens up on dealing with anger and his fatherless childhood
The tighthead prop starred in England's quarter-final win over Australia, and made sure that he did not rise to any provocations
After delivering the most impressive performance of his young England career yet, Kyle Sinckler revealed the emotional journey he has embarked on through a fatherless childhood and a career laced with anger and frustration that brought him to a breakout performance in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
That emotional rollercoaster appeared to be released the moment that Sinckler scored his maiden Test try, a crucial score in the second-half that rebuilt the lead England had just sacrificed against Australia and paved the way for their record-equalling 40-16 victory that booked their place in the semi-finals. Arms outstretched, a beaming smile on his face, Sinckler roared in delight before the exhaustion began to kick in.
The tighthead prop has been trusted by Eddie Jones this year to start their biggest games in the No 3 jersey ahead of 93-cap Dan Cole, such has been his development over the last 18 months, but it hasn’t always been so smooth for the likeable south Londoner.
Sinckler found himself targeted by Warren Gatland – the man who picked him for the British and Irish Lions tour two years ago – before this February’s Six Nations clash, a tactical barb aimed at using his own emotions against him. Combined with the craft of Alun Wyn Jones, Sinckler allowed his frustrations to get the better of him, and conceded two crucial penalties at the end of a standout display that helped Wales to a victory that cost England dearly.
“If I’m being honest, the Wales game taught me a lot,” Sinckler said in the depths of Oita Stadium. “I let the team down, I let my country down, if we had won that game we would have been Grand Slam champions. I had to look within and just work on that side of my game.”
He added: “I feel like I’ve got a real big responsibility for the team, and not only the team, the people watching back home, especially people where I come from. I want to leave a good example for them, show them how to play the game. A sign of toughness isn’t what you say to the opposition or how you react with handbags, but it’s your next action and that’s something I’ve tried to really, really improve in my game.”
The way that the 26-year-old has developed in the last few months has stood out massively, so much so that he is unquestionably among the leading tighthead props in the world right now – an appearance in the last four of the World Cup this weekend will help to prove that.
Asked about how he has gone about changing that mentality, Sinckler opens up completely on his work with Ollie Pryce-Tidd, a former semi-professional rugby player now working for Saviour World, a life-coaching programme for men, having gone through the turmoil of balancing his sporting career with running a nightclub and trying to earn a living at the same time.
Pryce-Tidd has also helped Australian centre James O’Connor onto the road to mental recovery, having gone off the rails not so long ago when he was caught in possession of cocaine in Paris in 2017, but it’s the work that he has done with Sinckler that has put the Harlequins forward into a completely different frame of mind.
“I feel like, for me, I’ve always been quite a frustrated guy,” Sinckler said. “Rugby is my canvas. I’ve always expressed myself through it, like my outlet, so I’ve had to deal with a lot of things I was probably frustrated about in my life and address them. I’ve been working really hard to address those things off the field, things that happened in my childhood. And then once I got a better understanding of that stuff I had no frustrations; I could just go out and play and try to be a role model for a lot of people back home.
“My mission is to inspire the next generation the way the 2003 generation inspired me. I remember watching them and Jonny Wilkinson kicking that goal and it made me want to play rugby and be on that stage. It’s a matter of having a responsibility to the grass roots.
“It’s probably nothing to do with rugby really,” Sinckler added. “My frustrations were nothing rugby-related. I was born in a single-parent home, I was always looking for that male father figure. Subconsciously, I put people in that position, put my trust in certain people who betrayed me really.
“It was just about me taking control of my life and teaching me how to be an actual man. A man is in control of his emotions, a man looks after his family, he does the right things. He doesn’t let anything that frustrates him show, he just gets on with it. That is something I’ve really tried to work on because I know my behaviour in the past has cost the team and I didn’t want to feel like that again. I had to look within and help.
“I feel like it’s definitely done something – I hope you guys have seen a change. It’s working for me, but it’s been tough.”
One person who has certainly seen the change within him is his coach, Eddie Jones, who trusted Sinckler to keep that new-found composure even when the Wallabies tried to rile him early on in Saturday’s encounter. It was Jones who saw Sinckler’s potential to be a key figure in his World Cup side three years ago, which led to a surprise call-up for the tour Down Under that summer.
“It was at the Stoop,” recalled Jones. “I saw this little chubby prop that could do things that other props couldn't do. I thought I'd give him a go and we took him to Australia in 2016 and he had bit of an apprenticeship, couldn't get a game, trained hard and discovered what he needed to work on.
“It's a real credit what he's done in his career. One of the best things was that last night we had a dinner together and he's up there with his mum, who is as proud as punch. He dealt with [being wound up] and he'll get that again because when you're a good player you get that. He's learning. For a tight-head prop he's still a young guy. That's the exciting thing about this team. There's still so much in them.”
Sinckler has spoken before about his need for the game, crediting it for giving him an avenue to express himself and remain on the straight and narrow.
“A lot of people, when I was growing up, said I couldn’t do a lot of things, that I wouldn’t amount to anything,” he reflected on Saturday. “I was lucky to have a good family around me, a good group of friends who supported me and never really allowed me to get in trouble and steered me in the right direction. They were good role models.
“Look at the stuff that’s happening around London with the knife crime. It’s just because kids are bored, sitting around. When I was a kid I had training, I was playing football, rugby, cricket, I was doing kick boxing, karate, I didn’t have time to think about doing something bad. At the moment kids are sitting around and they want that adrenalin rush. They need to fall in love with some kind of sport, some kind of activity.
“Where I’m from there’s a big onus on me to set a good example and show what being a man is. A man isn’t losing your rag, your emotions, showing your opposition how you really feel. It’s about being calm, being disciplined, putting the team first, doing your job and not allowing your ego to take control.”
But while Sinckler has needed the game, the game desperately needs people like Sinckler: he is entertaining yet informed, engaging yet relaxed. Above all else though, he is a respectable young man who off the pitch is nothing like the “runaway rhino” that Jones labelled him at the weekend, and to use his own words to describe where he is today, he has done his mother – and his country – proud.