Kyle Sinckler has opened up on his struggle to get to grips with his move from Harlequins to Bristol Bears during the middle of lockdown that has left him playing “at 20 per cent” of his true capabilities.
In what will be a frightening proposition for those going up against England’s first-choice tighthead prop, Sinckler believes he is capable of playing at five-times his current level, with the 27-year-old believes he will only benefit from what has been a testing time in his life, having upped sticks and left south-west London after 15 years to join Bristol.
Though the 38-Test England international stressed that the process of settling in to his new club has been made considerably easier thanks to director of rugby Pat Lam and his backroom team, Sinckler believes only now can he get back towards playing his best rugby, having been part of one of the most defensively dominant performances in recent memory in England’s 18-7 victory over Ireland at the weekend.
“If I am being honest with myself, I haven’t been at my best,” Sinckler said. “I’d probably say I’ve been functioning at 20 per cent of my best at Bristol. But I guess the main thing for me is trying to improve every day.
“I think it’s probably been hard for me more off the field, and I think in the future I’ll reap the benefits of what I’ve done. I never really understood when players sign and they move to clubs why they’ve not hit form.
“I guess for me my issues have been I had to move in the middle of lockdown, I haven’t seen my mum since June, I haven’t seen any family. I’ve obviously been in Bristol and basically we’ve been on our own little lockdown anyway because you can’t go out, as if you get coronavirus and bring it back to the team that’s not going to be good.
“It’s just been a big change and I think I appreciate everyone there that’s been massively patient with me and I’m just excited to get back some form, and then when I get back to Bristol whenever that may be, just try and do the fans proud.”
Though Sinckler feels like he is emerging from a lull in his career, his recruitment coincided with Bristol’s real emergence as a Premiership contender. The club’s ambitious plans in the summer, combined with rugby’s shutdown during the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, meant that they returned to action in August with the welcome additions of Sinckler and Saracens loanees Ben Earl and Max Malins.
It has meant that Sinckler has had to do something for the first time in his professional career in learning a completely new style of play in unfamiliar surroundings.
“But it’s been a great lesson for me in terms of patience,” he added. “Obviously I want to get the ball and do my thing, but it’s a whole different system. I have to be patient.
“I’ve started from when I was at Quins and I’ve been there since I was 12 years old with a lot of credit in the bank. I’ve gone to Bristol and it’s like starting again from zero, and I can only give thanks to Pat and the coaches that have massively helped me.
“Even though to you guys it looks very erratic the way Bristol plays, it’s a lot of structure and a lot of detail. The training is unbelievable and we’re always pushing to get better, so I think it’s probably a bit of both.
“But I know it’ll come. I think I’ve played 12 games there, I think we won 10 and we won the Challenge Cup so it’d be good to get back there and get the other 80 per cent. That’d be exciting for the team.”
Before he goes back to Bristol, Sinckler will hope to feature two more times for England as they wrap up their Autumn Nations Cup campaign, which at the halfway stage could not have gone much better thanks to a 40-0 victory over Georgia and the dominant performance over Ireland.
Sinckler was part of a starting pack that recorded 148 tackles last Saturday at an average of more than 18 per player, with Ireland’s strategy playing straight into the hands of a side that has come to pride itself on its defensive resilience.
The prop doesn’t expect that to be the same this Saturday though when England face old foes Wales. England only need to avoid a heavy defeat against Wayne Pivac’s struggling side to reach next week’s final against France - as long as they avoid a shock defeat against Italy - with Eddie Jones’s side overwhelming favourites for the contest at Parc y Scarlets.
Yet Sinckler believes he will not have so much defensive work to do if selected given how Pivac has his side playing.
“It all depends on the style the other team play,” he explained. “For instance, Ireland play a lot off nine and have a big pack. You’re going to see the front five make a lot more tackles. Whereas Wales play probably a lot wider game, so it will probably be different next week.
“Each week you just have to adjust and adapt. That’s what Test match rugby is about, adapting to what’s been thrown at you, Everyone’s got a plan but in the heat of battle everything can change in a second.
“The pleasing thing is we know we’re not even scratching the surface. We’ve so much left in the tank. One thing I’ve been really impressed with is the younger guys coming through. They’ve really added to the group. It kind of reminds me of when me and Gengey (Ellis Genge) first got into the squad, just trying to make a name for ourselves. They’ve done really well.”