England must remember when the going is tough, mates have your back

DYLAN HARTLEY: In the heat of battle against Wales at Twickenham, England stars like Kyle Sinckler MUST remember that when the going gets tough, mates have your back

  • England have a great opportunity to beat Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday 
  • Prop Kyle Sinckler will prove key to hosts’ hopes of a victory at Twickenham 
  • Sinckler has improved since Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones got under his skin last year

You might remember Alun Wyn Jones getting under Kyle Sinckler’s skin last year after Warren Gatland accused the England man of being a timebomb. 

That is where, as a player, you need a support network.

A lot of the time, those on-field support networks are set up in mini units: front row, back row, back three and so on. Five minutes in, you might see the flankers and No 8 getting together to talk about what’s going on at the breakdown. That’s all rehearsed.

Kyle SInckler (right) confronted Alun Wyn Jones (left) in England’s clash with Wales last year

You’ll often notice a cool, calm guy like Jamie George pulling someone out of a skirmish because you have got to have your mate’s back.

Those support networks are emotional as well as technical but they’re not just in place for 80 minutes on a Saturday. They’re there the whole time that you’re in camp.  Rugby players are human beings. They’re pinned up on posters as some kind of sporting gladiators, but the reality is they have normal lives away from training.

All the guys have to deal with the everyday issues we all have while also trying to be world-class athletes and rugby players. It is slightly easier for the guys who don’t have wives or partners at home holding the fort, doing all the thankless tasks.

George Ford (left) and Ben Youngs (right) must step up as leaders on the pitch for England

Others may need support during long periods in camp. I saw it in my time as a player. Bereavements, family illness, relationship problems, needing to see their children — you need to be there to support them.

Eddie Jones might pull you aside and quietly say, ‘It’s your job to watch this guy this week because he’s having a tough time’. Look after the person first and you’ll have a better player.

It’s not just Owen Farrell, George Ford and Ben Youngs who have to step up as mentors. That leadership group is like an onion — it has lots of little layers to it. Sometimes Owen needs support on the pitch, too.

Kyle’s a confrontational player but you don’t want to take that edge away because it makes him the player he is. All the little afters such as hair ruffling, winking and smirking are born out of doing your job better than the opposition. You can’t go around chirping and sledging if you’re not dominating the rugby because otherwise it’s just cheap talk.

Those theatrics make the game more interesting but actions speak louder than words. Owen will tell you that the best way to get under someone’s skin is to smash them back in a tackle, physically dominate your opposite man or score tries. It’s technical brilliance and big attacking plays that get you the real one-upmanship.

England coach Eddie Jones knows how best to get the most out of his England squad

Guys such as Bakkies Botha, Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino were the most intimidating guys I played against, purely because they could set the tone physically.

I learned pretty early on that you get what you give. If you give it out, there’s a good chance you’ll get it back. As I got older, a bit like Kyle, I worked out that playing two games — rugby and a side game —was too much effort. Sometimes it brought the best out of me and sometimes the worst out of me. I probably worked that out too late in my career.

Kyle’s a year older and a year wiser. He’s constantly working it out, like every other player. Wales targeted him last year because they respect him. He’s on a journey because he’s really serious about his craft. 

He gets his own physio, massage, sprint training, meal prep. He’s uber professional. I remember when he was a little fat kid who could play a bit. He’s getting better and better with age. If he was a cool, calm, collected Kyle Sinckler, I don’t think we’d see the player we all love.

He needs to be in that confrontational place to be at his best and, with the right support around him, he is on course to become one of the best in the world.

Sinckler has matured impressively and is really serious about now developing his craft


I was shocked when I heard this week that the Six Nations could be switching over from terrestrial TV to Sky Sports. People always talk about trying to grow our game but this struck me as a short-term vision to make a quick buck.

The game needs to grow. English rugby still has a private school, middle-class image and we need to keep unearthing the next Kyle Sinckler or the next Ellis Genge. As soon as you go to pay TV, it limits the viewing figures and that kid might miss the game they saw by chance on a Saturday afternoon.

When you play Premiership rugby, you get your die-hard 10,000 at the stadium and the fans who pay for BT Sport. 

Moving the Six Nations to paid-for TV may rob youngsters of role models like Ellis Genge

On terrestrial TV, you get millions of people — Mr and Mrs Bloggs who watch two games a year with their Sunday roast. It’s a sense of occasion.

My nan watches the Six Nations even though she probably doesn’t know what’s going on.

As a player, you realise the size of the occasion when you’re playing in it. A lot of the players got involved because they grew up watching the tournament on BBC. So if the Six Nations does move over to Sky Sports, I just hope it doesn’t impact on the numbers taking up rugby.

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