Lions rookie Kyle Sinckler feels like he is in rugby heaven on the eve of his debut in the famous red jersey. Yet his thirst for knowledge may be hell for his teammates.
By his own admission, the 24-year-old England tighthead prop is a British & Irish Lions nut, a young man in his first season of international rugby who just eight years ago was a teenager crying in his kitchen because they had lost a series to South Africa.
Tomorrow, in Whangarei, he will pack down in a Lions front row with 2009 veteran Alun Wyn Jones pushing right behind him as the tour gets underway against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.
“I’m in a bit of rugby heaven at the moment,” Sinckler said. “I’ve got Rory Best next to me who has 104 caps, I’ve got Alun Wyn Jones who, I think, has 102, Joe Marler, regarded as one of the best looseheads in the world, Sam Warburton, (Taulupe) Faletau. I’m just trying to learn off these guys and see what works and what doesn’t. I am just taking it all in and trying and learn because these guys have 100-odd, 70-odd caps for a reason and that’s where I want to be, so there’s no greater place for me to be at the moment.”
Asked whether he tapped into all the experience around him by listening or was more proactive, Sinckler had no hesitation in saying: “I’m always asking questions.
“I’m pretty sure Rory Best is tired of hearing my voice. He shared a room with me for about two or three days and I’m always asking him: ‘what was Marcus Horan like?’, ‘what was John Hayes like?’ ‘Jerry Flannery, what was he like?’ ‘Eddie O’Sullivan, what was he like?’
“I just want to learn, ‘what was Paul O’Connell like?’, etc.
“He’s just there looking at me like, ‘really?, it’s 12 o’clock and we’ve got to get up in a few hours and you’re asking me about the 2007 Six Nations’.
“I’m always trying to learn, I’d be a bit of a fool if I didn’t ask these guys questions, watch them and hang around them, to see how they work day in, day out.
“At the end of the day, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, isn’t it? For me to be here, to be with all of these great players...”
Sinckler has already been marked out by his squad mates as one of the tour’s characters while head coach Warren Gatland is a big fan of the prop’s skillset.
“He’s incredibly powerful,” Gatland said. “He’s still pretty green as a rugby player but he’s got something that the others haven’t got. He’s explosive as a ball-carrier. He runs different angles. He’s a bit like an overweight back who ended up in the front row, because he loves the ball in his hands and he likes to think about the angles he can run to get in behind the opposition, using that power that he has and being so explosive off the mark. We need to use that. We need to exploit that.”
The Lions boss has clearly done his homework on the Harlequins prop, whose forwards coach Graham Rowntree is a member of the Lions coaching team, but Gatland was not aware of Sinckler’s passion for rugby’s famous tourists.
The Londoner is a devoted viewer of the numerous fly on the wall Lions tour documentaries and a fan of the famous speeches that were once kept behind closed doors.
“This is our Everest!” Sinckler proclaimed, quoting Jim Telfer’s famous 1997 address to the Lions pack. “I think I’ve watched that about 100 times, I remember watching that as a kid all the time, him sitting down talking to Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Tom Smith, Paul Wallace.
“They (his team-mates) do ask me to do renditions of the Jim Telfer, the Paul O’Connell. I’ve watched it all.
“I know the Warren Gatland one from 2009 third Test. I like the Phil Vickery one with Andrew Sheridan before the first Test.
“It’s good to see the guys’ emotion. I get a bit emotional myself as well so it’s good to see the emotion but channelled in the right way.
“It’s not hard (get revved up before a game).
“I’m just excited to go out there, play rugby and hit people for a living. I don’t need to get excited to play rugby. I can’t wait to get out there to train this afternoon. I don’t need a massive rev up. I’m ready to go.”
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