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Sinckler is seizing his golden opportunity to learn from legend Best

Pushing the limits: Kyle Sinckler is giving the Lions tour his all in a bid to develop as a player

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Kyle Sinckler made the most of his week rooming with Rory Best.

A self-confessed 'rugby nause', he is fascinated by the campaigns he grew up watching during the 2000s and having up close and personal access to a man who lived it, the Harlequins tighthead made the most of the opportunity.

"I'm always asking questions," he said after being selected to play alongside the Ireland captain in tomorrow's opening fixture against the Provincial Barbarians.

"I'm pretty sure Rory Best is tired of hearing my voice. He shared a room with me for about two or three days and I'm always asking him, 'what was Marcus Horan like?', 'what was John Hayes like?', 'Jerry Flannery, what was he like?', 'Eddie O'Sullivan, what was he like?'

"I just want to learn, what was Paul O'Connell like, etc.

"He's just there looking at me like, 'really? It's 12 o'clock and we've got to get up in a few hours and you're asking me about the 2007 Six Nations...'

"I'm always trying to learn, I'd be a bit of a fool if I didn't ask these guys questions, watch them and hang around them, to see how they work day in, day out.

"At the end of the day, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, isn't it?

"For me to be here, to be with all of these great players... they're not just good players, they're world class and probably some of the greatest players ever, if I can't try and be a sponge and learn off them, then I'd be a bit naive and a bit stupid."

Sinckler is a peer of his squad-mate Tadhg Furlong who he is in competition with for the No.3 jersey along with experienced campaigner Dan Cole.

The Harlequins prop has yet to start for England, but has been making a real impact off the bench for Eddie Jones' side.

"Tadhg Furlong is a good guy. We've played against each other for our age groups," he said.

"If you look at how he's developed in the last 12 months he's probably been the form tighthead. It's good to be around him.

"He's a good boy. We get on. We're always having a laugh, a bit of a jolly; kicking competitions too - I don't think Coley is too interested in that. We're probably a bit similar."

Sinckler's party piece is his ability to recite the Lions speeches he's watched on Youtube, citing Jim Telfer's 'Everest' speech, Paul O'Connell's address to the troops four years ago and Phil Vickery's 2009 effort as part of his repertoire.

He's spoken of his dramatic reaction to the 2009 series loss in Pretoria when his mother found him crying on the kitchen floor.

Despite his youth, he gets the Lions and now he gets to wear the famous red shirt.

"I'm just excited to go out, play rugby and hit people for a living," he said. "I don't need to get excited to play rugby. I can't wait to get out there to train. I don't need a massive rev up. I'm ready to go.

"Warren (Gatland) is quite good. He lets the players be themselves. I've tried to be myself, to get to know the boys and the banter is definitely flowing.

"It's good that there's a game on Saturday and we can put all our hard work out there to play rugby. It's good to see where you are as a team, get a good result, get the win and get the momentum to build for the guys who get to put on the jersey next week.

"I'm in a bit of rugby heaven at the moment. I've got Rory Best next to me who has 104 caps, I've got Alun-Wyn Jones who, I think, has 102, Joe Marler, regarded as one of the best looseheads in the world, Sam Warburton, (Taulupe) Faletau.

"I'm just trying to learn off these guys and see what works and what doesn't. I am taking it all in and trying to learn because these guys have 100-odd, 70-odd caps for a reason and that's where I want to be, so there's no greater place for me to be than learning off world-class players.

"Look at the starting team and it's a lot of the boys who were in training the first week so we've got that connection and we've been with each other a while.

"It's nice but I can't get too carried away; I've just got to do my job and try to put my best performance out there at the weekend."

Towards the end of his team announcement press conference, a local news reporter attempted to put Warren Gatland off his stride by quoting the results of a poll that said 78pc of New Zealanders couldn't name a single Lion.

The Kiwi coach took the question in his stride, but later acknowledged that his team's mission is to leave the country having made a name for themselves. Starting tomorrow morning.

The opening fixture against the Provincial Barbarians is the only potential soft-touch game on a gruelling schedule and offers them a chance to garner momentum going into a run of games that takes in four of the Super Rugby franchises and the Maori before the Test series begins.

Gatland outlined his view that the Maori game tomorrow fortnight is the day that the tour switches from build-up to business time.

His selection for that match is likely to give a broad indication of his selection plans for the All Blacks.

Before then, he has promised to hand opportunity to everyone in the first three games. All 41 players have been promised a start, if fit, and the players whose club schedules allowed them to come into camp early are rewarded with a first shot in Whangarei tomorrow.

"I see the tour in two parts: everything up to the Maori game and then everything post that," Gatland said.

"If we can go and play some good rugby and make people stand up and take a little bit of notice it's going to create even more interest.

"The statement, first of all is a win. In 2009 we struggled in that first game. It will be hard on these players and the weather will play a part.

"We will go out there and give a good performance. They will be hugely up for it and have half a dozen players who are involved in Super Rugby squads. A large proportion of them are coming out of club rugby so probably haven't played at a high intensity for a few months so we have to play with tempo and put them under pressure.

"It's about us concentrating on ourselves and setting down a marker for us to build on for Wednesday and through to the Crusaders.

"It is important week, this first one. To get off to a good start I want the players to put us coaches under pressure and make the job difficult for us in terms of selection and who we are going to pick when it comes to the first Test."

The three Irish players selected to start will have a major role in driving that performance.

Rory Best will be the fulcrum of a set-piece that will hope to assert it's superior quality over the locals, while Iain Henderson has been handed the responsibility of calling the lineouts.

Gatland just stopped short of declaring that the third Irish starter, Johnny Sexton, was under pressure but with a three-way fight for the No 10 shirt now under-way he knows he'll need a big performance to state his initial case for selection.

With Farrell and Biggar set to start the next two, more challenging, games, then the Ireland out-half will hope to assert his class on proceedings from the kick-off.

Playing alongside Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw and with a familiar face in former Leinster centre Ben Te'o outside him, Sexton is running a backline that trained as a unit in Carton House last week. Gatland informed the players of his intended selection last week, allowing them an opportuntiy to gel before travelling.

The Barbarians have been together for 10 days, but are lacking in pedigree and game-time.

Although there is talent in the ranks, most of them are either fringe players in Super Rugby squads or club players. They'll be up for it, but if the Lions perform then they'll have few issues.

The result, Gatland said, is non-negotiatiable.

"To be honest we have to go out there and win on Saturday," he said.

"There's no doubt that it's important that we get the tour off to a good start. The net two games are going to be tough.

"I think, strangely, even though the Crusaders have been going well, potentially the Blues game may be a bit more physical because they have some very, very strong ball-carriers where as a collective unit the Crusaders are very strong and are going to be tough to beat.

"So the next two games after Saturday are going to be tough tests for us as well but we need to get this tour off to a good start, and we need a good performance on Saturday. There's no hiding from that fact. I think the players are well aware of that."

Although a bench picked from a squad of 41 internationals should always be strong, the one selected by Gatland looks to have extra oomph.

Jared Payne will line up at his home stadium when he comes on, while Tadhg Furlong will get the chance to wear the red jersey for the first time when he replaces Kyle Sinckler.

Developing a group of replacements who can make an impact is key.

"That's often been the All Blacks' strength, being able to have the ability and the impact coming off the bench," Gatland said.

"Sometimes with the Celtic nations, we don't have that luxury and the thing that's exciting about the Lions is that you can have a real impact with players coming off the bench to make a difference and match, potentially, when the All Blacks make their changes."

He also suggested that those expecting a version of his traditional power-game, nick-named 'Warren-ball' will be wide of the mark.

"We've got some players at the moment who aren't known here, but they've got some X-factor," he said.

"To match the All Blacks, sometimes it just comes down to one or two magical moments. That might just been an off-load or someone does something special. We've got to give our players the confidence to do the same thing.

"As coaches we have to give them the freedom to go out there and play what is in front of them and be able to express themselves.

"I said to the players this morning, "If we've got a four-on-two on our goal-line, then the decision to me is that you've got to move the ball and do something. I don't want you to play by numbers, I want you to play what is in front of you.

"I want them to express themselves, starting straight away, in this game."

When the tour concludes next month, this fixture will be a footnote, but right now it is everything for this group of Lions who need momentum if they are to have any chance of succeeding.

And Gatland believes the Lions could be "familiar" with the haka by the start of the Test series.

Head coach Gatland feels the Lions could benefit from the haka becoming "regular preparation", with the tourists facing the traditional Maori challenge outside of Test matches for the first time.

Super Rugby outfits the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs will perform it in the build-up to their Lions clashes - and Gatland hinted that could dent the mystique of the famed challenge.

"There's no plan for the haka; we'll just face up to it," said Gatland, with the Lions to face it for the first time this tour against the Blues on Wednesday.

"The nice thing is that players are going to get an opportunity to face the haka on more than one occasion.

"For me the experience, the more times you face up to it, you don't mind it, it's a motivational thing; it's not intimidating.

"And I'm pleased my players will face it more than once. You become familiar with it. It becomes part of regular preparation for a game."

Belfast Telegraph

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