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Kyle Sinckler: My attitude was not good enough and I let everyone down

England's Kyle Sinckler/My attitude was not good enough and I let everyone down
Kyle Sinckler says his 'attitude in life post 2019 just wasn't good enough' as he looks ahead to the next phase of his career - Getty Images/Stu Forster

Kyle Sinckler wants to talk. He wants to discuss what went wrong at the 2023 World Cup and more importantly why he feels he was responsible for England’s semi-final defeat to South Africa. And he wants to explain why he is convinced that redemption will come at the 2027 World Cup.

No stone is left unturned in the course of an hour-long interview. By and large what lies underneath these stones is not a pretty sight. “I look back now and think I was actively trying to self-sabotage,” Sinckler tells Telegraph Sport in his first newspaper interview since the World Cup. “I let everyone down.”

To understand how Sinckler fell so far short of his lofty standards last year in France, we need to go back four further years to the second minute of the World Cup final against South Africa where the tighthead prop is lying unconscious on the turf of the Yokohama Stadium. With Dan Cole on in his place, the Springboks pulverised England in the scrum and thus Sinckler was spared any blame in the inquest after an outstanding personal tournament.

“At that moment in time, I got away with it because there was always that question of what might have been if I hadn’t been knocked out,” Sinckler said. “Everything I touched turned to gold. A lot of that gave me a false sense of who I was and what I achieved, but in actual fact we had lost the World Cup. I came back with a massive sense of entitlement.

“That was the best but also the worst thing that could have happened to me because I had that entitlement: I am owed this, I should be getting this contract, I should be getting X, Y and Z. It led into this victim, woe-is-me mentality which I carried on through that four-year cycle.”

There were aggravating factors along the way. The 2020 move from Harlequins’ laissez faire style to Bristol’s more regimented approach did not suit his game. He also suffered a significant back injury and then leading into the 2023 World Cup a torn pec. Last week he revealed that the use of the tobacco product snus had also been an issue. But at no stage does Sinckler seek to make excuses.

“You can prepare diligently,” Sinckler said. “You can do all the training, the recovery, the saunas, the ice baths, the analysis. That’s all important, but if your attitude is wrong then all of that is futile. When I reflected on the past four years, my attitude in life post 2019 just wasn’t good enough. It is cause and effect.”

Then came 2023. Steve Borthwick came in as England head coach and started Sinckler through the Six Nations campaign in which the scrum made a significant improvement. After recovering faster than expected from that pec injury, Sinckler was on the bench for the South Africa semi-final with a chance to show what England had been missing in the 2019 final.

Kyle Sinckler during an England photocall during the 2023 World Cup
Sinckler, who was disappointed with his showing for England in France, says 'you cannot rock up to a World Cup having not consistently done the right things over the past four years and expect to perform at your best - Julian Finney/World Rugby for Getty Images

Only it did not turn out that way. When Sinckler came on in the 56th minute, England were leading 15-6 and were enjoying parity if not superiority at the scrum. In an uncomfortable echo of 2019, the Springboks turned the screw and the English scrum again disintegrated.

“For me, the World Cup is our Olympics,” Sinckler said. “The chips fall as they may for a Lions tour, but World Cups are like Olympic cycles. As an athlete you cannot rock up to a World Cup having not consistently done the right things over the past four years and expect to perform at your best.

“It comes to that big moment of ‘can you execute?’ I could not execute. I gave it everything I had in that moment but I still wasn’t good enough in that moment. I am pretty sure if you have watched me play you know how good I can be and I wasn’t there. I got a massive reality check from that game.”

This realisation did not come instantly. “I was probably a bit in denial,” Sinckler said. “I was not all there. I was like ‘it is what it is’. I was not really accepting what had happened. I was shirking that responsibility. It was not until a few weeks later that it just hit me and I was like ‘f---’.”

That proved to be the last time he played under Borthwick who did not select him for the third-place play-off against Argentina or in this year’s Six Nations squad. If bridges had not been fully burnt, they at least require significant repair work. “I have worked with Steve for 8-9 years with England and Lions tours,” Sinckler said. “I know his expectation and what he expects of me and at the end of the day, I was not good enough. That’s a simple fact. He is not one of those coaches who holds a grudge and gets real personal. He just wants you to do the job. Can you do the job? ‘No, OK then bye, I will get someone who can’. I didn’t do the job.

“The most frustrating thing for me and him is that we both know that I can do that job very, very well so when I don’t do it is a case of ‘is this guy taking the p---?’ That’s understandable. That’s something I have had to reflect upon that relationship with Steve and how I could have been a better player for Steve.”

This is why Sinckler is leaving Bristol to join Toulon. After 13 seasons in the Premiership, Sinckler recognised that he needed a new challenge which the big beasts of the Top 14 will certainly provide on a weekly basis. “The whole game in the Top 14 is based around the scrum,” Sinckler said. “I am going into an environment where I am going to be tested week in week out.

‘It’s about being a consistent 7/10 every game’

“I still don’t think I have played my best rugby. I still feel in the next four years are going to be the best four years of my career. It is not about having one game where you do a flashy offload or make a linebreak where you are trending on Twitter. It is about being consistently a 7/10 every game, maybe going up to a 8/10 or 9/10 but when you come down being a 7/10 again. I feel like that consistency I am starting to get a grip on.”

Of course by joining Toulon, he is removing himself from the England picture due to the Rugby Football Union’s ban on selecting overseas players. Yet crucially, his contract lasts three years which would leave him eligible to be selected for the 2027 World Cup. For Sinckler, this is less a goal than his destiny. That would complete a Shakespearan saga in which 2019 is the rise, 2023 the fall and then 2027 the redemption.

“That’s what it is, it is a redemption story,” Sinckler said. “That’s what fuels me to be back on that platform but I have to earn it. I want to use my mistakes and my journey to inspire others. This is just my story and there are people in a far worse position than me. But if they can look at me and see that I have had a setback, but he has set X, Y and Z goals and then achieved it, that is so inspiring.

“I will be at the World Cup in 2027, 100 per cent. There’s the Lions in 2025 and I would love to play in that as well. They are big aims and big goals, but that’s what I did as a kid from South London when I was telling people I would play for England and they thought I was talking rubbish. But to do that I need to go away, work on my game and have a better attitude.”