Anthony Watson reaches a milestone in his England career grateful for guidance from Kyle Sinckler that steered him away from seeking the limelight.
Watson wins his 50th cap in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with France at Twickenham as one of Eddie Jones’ best performing players in an otherwise disappointing campaign.
The 27-year-old Lion has been a consistent threat for England since making his debut in 2014 and is an automatic pick under Jones, but his long absence with a twice-ruptured achilles forced a reordering of priorities.
Recovery came in time for the 2019 Word Cup and his defence-shredding runs are now motivated by a different impulse inspired by the words of red rose team-mate Sinckler.
“When I got my first cap I was pretty immature. I was trying to be in the limelight for not necessarily the right reasons, trying to be more than a rugby player,” Watson said.
“I was interested in a lot of other stuff besides rugby but as Kyle Sinckler always says to me: ‘you’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing’.
“That’s probably where most of the shift has come in terms of mindset and focus on what’s important. That’s how it has changed from cap one to cap 50.
“The achilles injury was massive for me because I realised that while some of the off-field stuff was there, the things that really made me happy – playing rugby – weren’t.
“That was a pretty stark realisation and Kyle was really important to me through that whole process.
“There were times during that injury where I was off trying to do media or marketing stuff and he was like, ‘you need to keep the main thing the main thing’.
“That hit home with me and made me realise that if I want to keep doing what I love I need to make sure I keep it the main thing and not the other way round.
“It comes with age and maturity. We’ve all got a finite amount of years playing this game and you don’t know when it’s going to come to an end.”
Watson is playing some of the best rugby of his career, crossing twice in the last two games, and England will need him firing on all cylinders if they are to topple tournament favourites France.
Inspired by their irrepressible scrum-half Antoine Dupont, Les Bleus have rebuilt under head coach Fabien Galthie and now match historical strengths with a more efficient tactical approach.
“The ability to play from anywhere and be unpredictable is built into French rugby,” Watson said.
“That is the identity of French rugby and it’s good for the sport and it’s good that they have been able to hold that, even though they have changed a bit in terms of their pragmatism through their kicking.”
While acknowledging England must execute tactically, Charlie Ewels insists ‘Le Crunch’ will also be fuelled by passion.
“Emotion always comes into it,” said Watson’s Bath time-mate, who replaces Jonny Hill in the second row.
“We play a confrontational sport – it can never be a professional, technical thing because then you’ll look flat and you’ll never spark life into the things you want to do.
“It’s not so much about England-France and who the opposition is, it’s about the honour and opportunity of representing your country and all the emotion that brings.”