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The warning Phil Larder has given to England's Kevin Sinfield

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Kevin Sinfield has revealed the pep talks he has received from fellow rugby league greats who have coached rugby union defence at Test level – with even Phil Larder recently warning him to watch out for the media.


Larder was the first in the modern era to successfully make the coaching jump across from one code to the other, but although he went on to help England win the Rugby World Cup, he has reminded Sinfield about the criticism he had to initially face when things didn’t go well.

England bombed out at the World Cup in 1999 at the quarter-final stage and the media got stuck into the league-style defence that Larder had implemented. His ideas, though, worked out in the long run, Clive Woodward’s side lifting the trophy four years later in Australia.

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Just now, rugby league great Sinfield is enduring his own baptism of fire as a rookie Test-level defence coach. England have conceded a massive 30 tries in the nine matches he has been involved with under Steve Borthwick.

This leaky defence criticism will only intensify if a win isn’t secured versus Argentina in this Saturday’s World Cup opener in Marseille.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

Tries Scored
Points Difference
First Try
First Points
Race To 10 Points

Sinfield insisted on Tuesday in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage that nothing had taken him by surprise in the difficult teething process of jumping into the international arena after only coaching defence for a couple of years at Leicester following his retirement from playing rugby league.

“I don’t think there is anything that has surprised me; it is what I expected,” he insisted despite the accusations that the support staff working under Borthwick – including Sinfield – are far too callow and too inexperienced for Test level coaching.


“I have spoken to enough people before I got the job, I spoke to Shaun (Edwards) and Phil Larder, had a couple of chats with Andy (Farrell) when we played against Ireland.

“So there are guys who have certainly led paths before me and understand the journey I am heading on. In particular, speaking to those guys has really helped. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a straight line for all of those guys too.

“I didn’t expect this to be easy. I expected it to be tough, pulling a group of players together who are from very different systems and have very different personalities and characters.

“To try and get them on the same page has taken a lot longer than I probably envisaged but I see a belief and confidence in the group that they are as passionate as I am about it [defence].”


Asked to elaborate on the pep talk from Larder, Sinfield continued: “I won’t share it with you. He has been great. I met him a couple of times, I spoke to him last week… he told me a lot about you guys actually, told me about how you guys [the media] treated him back in 99, was it?

“He told me about some of the things that went his way but it shows you how important it is to stick in and stick to your beliefs. To have somebody like that who you can tap into and speak to is invaluable.”

Missed tackles were particularly detrimental when England lost last time out to Fiji to conclude their Summer Nations Series leading into the World Cup, their sixth loss in nine games in 2023. Does conceding tries leave Sinfield all emotional or has he a composed demeanour about him when things don’t go to plan?

“There is always emotion in defence; I don’t try to take that out. It is important that we are passionate about defending for each other and defending our line and it’s important we are aggressive and we get off the line and are physical.

“I spend a lot of time analysing, as you would expect. I’m passionate about my job. I want us to be better. We haven’t been good enough so far but I have seen a belief and confidence in the group that they really want to improve, so I am firmly in there with them. I’m accountable, I’m responsible and I believe in what we are doing.”


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Rusty 317 days ago

Don't worry England you just need to win 3 games and you will get to a's not that difficult on your side of the draw

Mark 317 days ago

The biggest concern re the current England team, is that defence is traditionally a much quicker and easier fix than attack.
Defence is as much about desire, and willingness and commitment as it is about technical analysis
You have to have 100% buy in from all of the players, this is because if players lack trust in the player on their inside or outside it all falls apart incredibly quickly.

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