By Neale Harvey
Kyle Sinckler believes his wild summer safari against South African loosehead Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira will inspire his glory charge with Harlequins and England.
Combative tight-head Sinckler admits he endured a sleepless night before his first head-to-head battle with The Beast in June’s opening Test against the Springboks in Johannesburg.
However, after starting all three summer matches, the Wandsworth-born prop has returned inspired by Mtawarira’s achievements despite England’s frustrating 2-1 series loss.
Sinckler told The Rugby Paper: “That tour was a big learning experience for me. I was up against The Beast, who’s now got 102 caps to my 13, but I thought I did alright and I learnt a huge amount, although it was obviously disappointing that we didn’t win the series.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous, especially the first time against him because you hear all the stories of how strong he is and what he did against Phil Vickery and the Lions in 2009.
“I had a sleepless night but it’s good to test yourself against the best. You don’t get 100-odd caps for no reason, he’s a top-quality player and that’s the aim for guys like myself and Harry Williams now, to keep playing at that level, keep representing your country and win.”
Sinckler added: “The Beast, below, is a top bloke. I spoke to him on and off the field in South Africa and I’m still keeping in touch with him now as I look to move my own career on.
“He’s been great in giving me some advice and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from what he told me.
“We spoke about his incredible rise and how he rode his bike from Zimbabwe to Durban and just rocked up at the Natal Sharks and said, ‘can I have a go?’.
“They let him train and now he’s the most capped Shark of all time and has become a legend in South Africa.
“What would have happened if he’d never made that bike ride? It showed massive dedication and belief in himself, which is definitely something I can take a lot from.”
From being a bit-part player at Harlequins two-and-a-half years ago, Sinckler featured in all three Tests for the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand last year and has started England’s last four matches as he battles Exeter’s Williams to be the heir apparent to Dan Cole.
He said: “Eddie Jones gave me a chance when I wasn’t really starting many games for Quins. Then he took me to Australia in 2016 and has kept me in the squad ever since.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise because I work as hard as I can each day to improve, but you can never switch off mentally and I’m just looking to be as consistent as I can.
“The biggest disappoint- ment for me with England this summer is that we were so close in both the games we lost, and if you look at that first Test in particular, we let that slip away after a good start and that’s a massive learn-on for me and the rest of our team.
“We really weren’t that far away from winning the series, so hopefully I’ll get another chance to wear the jersey this November and we can prove we’re a good side.”
While this autumn’s clash with New Zealand offers an enticing carrot, Sinckler knows his first port of call is to perform for a Harlequins side seeking redemption under new management in the form of head of rugby Paul Gustard and forwards coach Alex Codling.
He added: “Gussy’s a top bloke who gains instant respect and Alex is like Steve Borthwick in terms of his detail, but coaches can only do so much and as players we have to take the main responsibility because we haven’t been good enough for two or three years.
“If you look at our last four or five seasons we haven’t started very well, but there’s a totally different vibe here now and we’re looking to start with a bang against Sale.
“Our fitness levels are through the roof and we’re unbelievably excited to get our campaign started.”
By Neale Harvey