Yorkshire Carnegie v London Welsh: ‘Crash-course’ leaves Kevin Sinfield eager for silverware at Headingley

Leeds Rhinos' Kevin Sinfield with the Grand Final trophy.

Leeds Rhinos' Kevin Sinfield with the Grand Final trophy.

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THE last final Kevin Sinfield played was in front of a crowd of more than 73,000.

There may only be around 2,000 people watching when he features in his next, the British & Irish Cup showpiece for Yorkshire Carnegie against London Welsh at Headingley tomorrow.

Nevertheless, just five months after rounding off his glittering Leeds Rhinos career with that treble-clinching Super League Grand Final victory over Wigan Warriors at Old Trafford, he is clearly excited by his first shot at silverware in rugby union.

Sinfield, at 35, has adapted to the 15-man code sufficiently enough in that short time to now almost be a regular starter piloting Carnegie from fly-half.

He gets the 10 jersey tomorrow and, on his new career, he told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m really enjoying it.

“It’s different – very different – but I feel pretty fortunate going from what we achieved with Rhinos and then coming across for a fresh opportunity to play another sport like this.

“It’s brilliant and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge.

“The last final I played actually at Headingley was winning with the Rhinos Academy in ‘98 so I have really fond memories of that.

“It’s pretty special to be able to play a final at Headingley and hopefully I can add to it by getting my first trophy in union.”

On the transition itself, Sinfield said: “I’m getting better. My understanding of the game is far better than it was.

“There’s still certain parts I’m unsure about but that was always going to be the case. You will never learn everything in five months – it’s more like a crash-course and, like with driving, you pick up experience on the road.

“I’m certainly doing that now. I’m making mistakes but I’m improving, learning and really enjoying it. The most surprising thing for me is, the longer I’m in it, the gap between the two sports gets bigger and bigger.

“My understanding gets better of how it all fits together and the management of a game as a fly-half but I realise the games are very, very different, too, far more so than I expected. The most enjoyable part is, first, when you get ball in hand on a dry day and you can play a number of phases.

“In rugby league, you get six tackles but in union you get as many as you can control the ball for and, in that aspect, when you ask questions of the defence, you can do it for 17, 18, 19 times. But, secondly, the lads have just been brilliant.

“I’ve made some really good mates, probably more than I thought, and that’s been great,” he said.

Aside from tomorrow’s game, when Carnegie aim to win the B&I Cup for the first time, the club’s principal aim is, of course, striving for promotion.

They are guaranteed a top-four spot with just two regular Championship rounds remaining and will challenge favourites Bristol, surprise package Doncaster Knights and, probably, Bedford Blues for a place in the elite during the forthcoming play-offs.

Carnegie, coincidentally, won at Welsh in the league a week ago, clinching a 31-28 victory in the final moments, a fifth consecutive win in all competitions.

Sinfield, who has made 14 appearances, including a dozen starts, contributing 105 points with his famous right boot, says that holds no sway tomorrow.

“It was important for confirming our spot in the play-offs and gave us some momentum but, as I’ve said throughout my career, finals are all about on the day,” said the man who led Leeds to seven Super League titles.

He added: “We realise what comes after Sunday, the next eight weeks or so, could be really special.

“But we are focusing on Welsh. We need to perform well to beat them again.

“I don’t think we’ll have any psychological advantage from what happened last week. They beat us at Headingley in November in the league…”

Finally, what is the most difficult aspect of his new sport?

“The tackle area is so different; should you go for the ball, should you hold off, the game stops there – for a split second – in league, but it’s where it starts in union,” added Sinfield.

“I’ll never be an openside flanker – there’s no doubt about that – and I admire those guys and what they do, where they stick their head at times.”

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