Kevin Sinfield believes his elevation to England’s coaching team has only been made possible by the inspiration provided by his close friend Rob Burrow.
Sinfield will act as Steve Borthwick’s number two with responsibility for the defence in a continuation of the partnership that delivered the Gallagher Premiership for Leicester last season.
While the chance to work with Borthwick has always been a big draw, the rugby league great sees the chain of events started by Burrow’s diagnosis with motor neurone disease as the most influential factor behind his successful switch of codes.
As part of his fundraising for research into MND, he has undertaken a series of running challenges, the most recent of which took place in November when he completed 300 miles in seven days with his former Leeds Rhinos team-mate present at the finishing line to greet him.
“As soon as I finished the challenge after Rob had been diagnosed, I knew I had to do something different with my life,” Sinfield said.
“A lot of that is based around Rob. Rob’s faced with this horrific disease and I realised I needed to take some risk and I needed to find more challenges in my life.
“As a player you get so much fulfilment from playing and I did – I took so much satisfaction. When I stopped playing, I was not lost but I was trying to fill a void I could never fill again.
“The opportunity at Leicester presented itself, which I jumped at. I didn’t have any idea at that stage that I’d find myself here in 15-16 months time. If you’d have told me, I’d have to pinch myself.
“A couple of things I’ve got from Rob are about fight. Rob’s inspired me in so many different ways and it’s probably a large reason why I’m here today because without that horrible news I’m not quite sure I would have come down this path.”
Once Eddie Jones had been sacked after an autumn that continued England’s collapse in results in a dire 2022, Borthwick was the natural successor.
Jones’ primary assistant coach from 2016 to 2019 insisted on taking Sinfield with him to Twickenham, yet early on in his transition to coaching in rugby union the former Great Britain international questioned whether he was out of his depth.
“I have to admit, after the first couple of days, I thought to myself, what have I done? Can I survive?” Sinfield said.
“And then very quickly, with support and care from Steve, the coaching team and players, I very quickly started to get fulfilment from it and really enjoyed it.
“Steve’s had a huge influence on me in the last 15 months. Steve is a fighter, you know how hard he works, you know he’s obsessed with winning, you know how diligent he is.
“The bit you probably don’t see is how much he cares and to be able to work alongside somebody who cares as much as he does – and I’ll give you an example of that.
“During my last challenge, which was seven ultras, I got a text off five people every single night. My wife, my two boys, Rob Burrow and Steve.
“Steve was right behind everything we were trying to do and people don’t hear that or see that. But he cares as much as anybody I’ve been around.”