Such has been Kyle Sinckler’s rapid rise to become England’s cornerstone that it might be easy to take him for granted, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.
But it pays to remember that less than three years ago, the tighthead prop could barely get a start for Harlequins let alone his country.
In a surprisingly short space of time therefore, he has risen to the dizzy heights of a British & Irish Test Lion, cemented himself as England’s go-to in the No.3 jersey and become a key cog in the ‘tank’ that he hopes will lead Eddie Jones’ side bid for an historic World Cup crown.
It hasn’t all come easily for the 26-year-old though, and he knows that better than anyone.
“Sometimes I think that's my biggest work-on, is to reflect and give myself a little pat on the back for 5-10 seconds," he said.
“It's been one hell of a journey from when I couldn't even get a game for Quins. I was always on the bench. To be at a World Cup, to have played for the Lions to have won, I think, 28 caps – hopefully I'll get a load more than that but it's been amazing.
“I didn't realise how much hard work it would require. When I was a lot younger, looking back now, I was probably very selfish and quite arrogant in terms of how good I thought I was.
“When I look back I was nowhere near as good as I thought I was. I always thought it was someone else's fault. The coach doesn't like me, this is rubbish, I should be playing etc.”
A key turning point for Sinckler was undoubtedly the arrival of Adam Jones at the Stoop.
The legendary Welsh tighthead arrived first as a rival then as Sinckler’s coach, and brought the youngster back to basics.
Sinckler added: “(Adam) gave me a little kick up the backside and then Eddie (Jones) gave me a chance. Before that Australia tour in 2016 I think I started one game for Quins that year. He gave me a taste and I thought 'I need to step my game up'.
“I was lucky I had some really good people around me and it all fell into place at the right time. If it hadn't, I don't know where my career would have gone.
“Eddie giving me that chance...look at the likes of Lewis Ludlam, he can find a diamond in the rough so to speak. Luds hasn't looked out of place and has done extremely well.
“It just takes that one person to believe in you and give you a chance. I'm just grateful I got that opportunity.”
The Australia tour in 2016, when Jones' men won 3-0 to create history, was a different story for Sinckler.
He only found out about his call-up by watching Sky Sports, arrived Down Under and could not crack the matchday 23. His England bow did not arrive until the following autumn.
But he learned a great deal about his preparation, nutrition and the importance of sleep in particular.
A supremely gifted ball handler, few front rowers in world rugby can fire the tight spiral or flick on passes that Sinckler manages week in week out, often in heavy traffic.
But he understands now that those highlight reel moments, and Sinckler has had plenty already despite his first Test try still eluding him, are a bonus rather than what he is paid for.
He added: “Eddie is a straight shooter, as we all know. The main thing is that, as a tighthead prop playing for England, your bread and butter is your scrum. In his opinion, until my scrummaging was at a level where I could start consistently, I don’t think he would have given me a chance.
“I had to work extremely hard on that part of my game – probably something that doesn’t come as naturally to me, but something that I pride myself on now. That is my go-to is my set piece first, and once I get that going, everything else falls into place
“I remember sitting on the sidelines watching all three Tests thinking, 'I need to get out there. I need to do anything possible to be on the pitch with these boys'.
“I only took a couple of weeks off after that season, then I worked hard, lost a lot of weight, focused on my scrum and did everything I possibly could to try to be selected.
“It all kind of fell into place. I had a good game against Northampton at home and that kind of gave me the little push in the right direction to get selected for the autumn Tests. I’ve just been quite lucky that it’s all fallen into place at the times that it did.”
There is another diamond in the rough in England’s front row, Ellis Genge the young Leicester loosehead who like Sinckler is a young tyro in the loose and the tight.
Genge has earned the nickname Baby Rhino, and his one-man charge down the wing last week against USA turned plenty of heads, including Sinckler's.
“It was special. My head was in a maul and I could hear the crowd screaming and I just thought: 'Oh my God, please tell me we haven't thrown an interception or something!'.
“I looked up and we were 60 metres down the field and I was like: 'Why didn't you score that!' I only saw it on the big screen after. He is capable of doing that too, and there are not many looseheads in the world who on their day can do that.
“So I am just happy he got out there and was allowed to express himself and we all saw how good a player he is.
“I'm the old war horse it feels like if he is the baby Rhino!
“I love going out there with Gengey, he's a good guy with a similar upbringing and similar mindset.”
Genge is in danger of missing out this weekend on the matchday 23 to face Argentina after the return to fitness of Mako Vunipola.
The front row depth is impressive in England, but Sinckler insists the tank will keep on rolling, particularly in the serious heat they have faced so far.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before – the heat and how relentless it is. It feels dry and so hot but it’s like torrential rain, the ball. It’s taken us time to get used to it. We’ve played in two indoor stadiums.
“It is something we have trained for in our camps – training with wet balls. I think it just takes time; as forwards, you might just have to adjust your running lines, where you are taking the ball, how flat you are taking it. The conditions have been testing so far.
“Everyone is so selfless and wants the team to do well, it doesn't matter about the accolades and who has the tries or who is getting the write-ups from you guys. It is just about getting the win and moving on to the next one. That is our main focus.
“I don’t know how much more of an emphasis we can put on it to be honest. I think one of the first things when I got into camp was the English DNA.
“Hopefully you guys saw that– scrum and maul and everything else is a bonus. There has been a progression over the last few years and Eddie is always on to us as a pack, we always want to assert ourselves through our scrum. I don’t know how much more we could do, we put so much in it each week, I don’t think it could possibly get any more.
“It is our DNA. Scrum and maul.
It just gets our game going, when our tank and our maul and our scrum get going. We get into a good flow and a good rhythm. It’s something, especially in the first 20-30min, that we always try to get our teeth stuck in to it.”
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