At times I would think ‘am I ever going to play again?’ – Kyle Sinckler

Kyle Sinckler missed England's tour of Australia with a back injury

Earning his 54th cap for England on Saturday afternoon against Japan, Kyle Sinckler again proved himself to be a vital part of the England machine as they picked up a 52-13 win to bounce back following defeat to Argentina a week earlier.

Playing for 67 minutes at Twickenham Stadium, the tighthead prop carried the ball on five occasions for England, completed 15 tackles and even beat a defender in what was a dominant performance for Eddie Jones’ side in the second game of their Autumn Nations Series campaign.

After falling short to Los Pumas in their opening game of the month, Michael Cheika’s team won at the first time at Twickenham since 2006 in the 30-29 victory, England looking abject in defeat and having no answers to offer their South American opposition.

The need to get back to winning ways was important to England for a variety of reasons. With a challenging November campaign planned, after the opening Tests with Argentina and Japan now come the challenge of New Zealand and South Africa, a win against the Brave Blossoms potentially the start of a productive week that could end in a win over the All Blacks.

“It definitely gives us confidence,” Sinckler said. “It’s quite frustrating at times because every team works hard, and we work hard as well. When you don’t get the result, it is frustrating. But this gives us a bit of momentum.

“The All Blacks have a six day turnaround, so the extra day will help us. It gives us confidence and momentum. It’s big boy rugby now, so it should be fun.”

First-choice tighthead prop for much of the past four years, Sinckler started in the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks as England booked their place in the World Cup final against South Africa, with that game in Yokohama the last time the two sides played.

In that game, England suffocated the All Blacks at every given opportunity. Executing their gameplan to perfection, in the years that have followed it emerged that Eddie Jones kick-started the week by slicing a kiwi fruit in half with a samurai sword.

“We played Australia in the quarter-final in Oita, I scored a try, and then we had a team meeting on the Sunday which is very strange,” Sinckler said. “Normally Sunday is a day off, recovery, you never really see Eddie.

“He called a players meeting at like 09:00 in the morning. Everyone was like ‘Jesus, that’s happened here? Has anyone done anything?’ and he set the tone for the week. I’ll never forget that meeting, in terms of how we set the week up with our gameplan – putting pressure on them, we’re going at them, walking towards the danger.

“That’s one of the things they pride themselves on, but we’re going to go for them. It was a surreal experience as we had no doubt after that meeting, we were going to win and it was the only game in my rugby career where everything went to plan.

“Literally everything Eddie said would happen, happened. They try they scored was a mis-thrown lineout, our mistake. We were so dominant. It was a surreal moment. I’ve never experienced that in my rugby career since.”

Even in how England approached the Haka that day in 2019 stands strong in the memory. Approaching their opposition in a V-shaped formation, an action that would ultimately result in England being fined £2,000, it set the tone for what was only England’s eighth ever victory over New Zealand.

On Sunday against Scotland at BT Murrayfield, it took Ian Foster’s team much of the game to ensure that they left Scotland with a 31-23 win. Under the guidance of Foster, New Zealand have not seemed to be the same opposition as in years gone by.

But even as a side that is less fancied in years gone by, the All Blacks did still win the Rugby Championship and have won each of their Autumn Nations Series games. When playing the most revered side in the world of rugby, much goes into the playing the team, that mental fortitude of facing the Haka all contributing to the hardest Test on any rugby calendar.

“I think a lot of it just comes from confidence,” Sinckler said. “If you are comfortable with who you are in your own skin, then it doesn’t really matter what anyone else does. For me, the Haka is a part of rugby and it’s an honour to be involved in something like that, which has been a part of the New Zealand and Maori history since day one.

“So, I don’t see it as something which is intimidating, I see it as an honour to be involved in such an occasion, playing for my country.

“I especially feel like that after the last six months I’ve had with my injury. For me to be out there, pain-free, playing again and getting back to where I know I can get to – I’ve just got ultimate gratitude for that.

“Sometimes, sub-consciously, you can take things a little bit for granted but having the injury I had to put things in perspective and I’m very grateful to be back doing what I love.”

That injury which Sinckler mentions is the back injury that left the prop unable to travel with England to Australia for their tour in the summer, the 29-year-old not playing between April and the start of this season as a result of his affliction.

Having worked extremely hard to be back to full fitness, the prop is certainly enjoying himself back out on the rugby field. It is almost easy to forget his ordeal at times, especially as he looks more at ease in the Test match arena as ever and enjoying his rugby for both club and country with loosehead prop Ellis Genge.

It has made every experience since making a recovery all the sweeter too, the prospect of preparing to take on the All Blacks a few months ago alien to the front-row.

“Being honest, yeah, because I had chronic, chronic back pain,” Sinckler said. “I’m very fortunate because I’m a professional athlete and we’ve got good physios at the club and S&C, and I’ve got my own team outside.