Ellis Genge thanked Eddie Jones for his tough love approach that has helped to make him the player he is today, with the Calcutta Cup match-winner admitting it hasn’t always been a smooth road between the pair.
The prop delivered the most influential moment of his 16-cap Test career, scoring the 69th-minute try that took England out of Scotland’s reach to get them back to winning ways. The victory not only kept their Six Nations hopes alive, but eased the pressure on Jones and his side following the opening Six Nations loss to France.
Genge made a notable impact in Paris, flooring fly-half Romain Ntamack with a powerful tackle and contributing to a scrum that took the ascendancy in the second half, and the same could be said about his performance in Edinburgh where England’s victory grew its roots in their set-piece superiority throughout the final quarter – which ultimately led the Genge’s game-changing try.
The 24-year-old, who celebrates his birthday this Sunday, will hope to remain in front of Joe Marler in the loosehead prop pecking order for the visit of Ireland at Twickenham in two weeks’ time, but for quite some time Genge has been in the belief that he should be promoted in front of Mako Vunipola as England’s starting No 1.
By Genge’s admission, that has fuelled a few honest words between himself and Jones, but he is nothing but appreciative of how the Australian has helped to bring on his game as a result.
“I was quite lucky,” explained Genge. “I got my (first) cap in 2016 after playing minimal minutes in the Premiership and I thought: ‘Here, we go. I’m an England player’ and I told (Eddie) that. I thought I was ready for it and I wasn’t.
“I got made aware of that last year when we played Scotland at home and we were 31 points up and ended up drawing 38-all. We went away and he picked my game apart. I threw a pass out the back for the try that drew the game but I also missed some tackles that got them back into the game. I wasn’t fit enough back then but I went away and worked on my game relentlessly. He’s been a very harsh critic of mine behind closed doors and I appreciate that. I need that.
“We’ve had our spats. We’ve had our arguments about what he thinks is going bad and what is going good. You take that stuff personally. If you don’t, you are probably in the wrong line of work. But it’s been good for me. I’ve gone away and worked on my game and it’s come to fruition. I’m by no means the finished article. I’m just looking forward to getting better and I’m happy under Eddie.”
Genge was the most vocal supporter of Jones in the wake of Saturday’s match, using his media duties afterwards to hit out at those praising England for the win despite last weekend heavily criticising them, describing them as “sausages” for calling for Jones’s head.
That interview, screened on the BBC’s match coverage, caused a number of abusive and offensive comments to be sent to Genge on Twitter, which he mocked by claiming he was “on the way back to my council estate to see my illiterate friends who all talk like zombies and are all terrible role models for kids” in response to criticism of his character and behaviour.
But Jones returned the favour, backing his straight-talking prop for growing as a player and as a man throughout his four years in the England set-up, and hailed the way that both he and fellow forward Kyle Sinckler take their position as role models seriously for helping to break down the sport’s barriers in England to those from a working class background or those of black, Asian and mixed ethnicity (Bame).
“You can always tame a horse, but it’s pretty hard to put wildness into a horse,” Jones said. “I don’t think he’s ever tamed. He’s still one of the horses that kicks and punches, but he knows which direction to go in and he knows when to go with the pack now.
“That’s his target (to start). That’s what he wants to be, but at the moment for us he’s a finisher – and he’s a great finisher.
“I can’t comment traditionally, (but) you’ve got to be prepared to gamble. It’s a high risk. A player like that can either turn out to be an excellent player or he can be a divisive factor in your team. He’s matured, he’s worked hard on his mentality, on his physical fitness. We ‘re so pleased with his progress.”
The Leicester Tigers front-row plays like he talks with the bit between his teeth, determined to make his mark the way that he wants. Yet the Bristolian also revealed how the motivation came not just from England’s preparations, but from what they had to witness in the wake of their last trip to Murrayfield two years ago. The 25-13 Calcutta Cup defeat in 2018 was followed by very public celebrations, with a video of Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell singing together in a bar going viral on social media.
While very little was made of that, England have had to cope with allegations that their pre-match talk crossed the line by using words such as “war”, “battle” and “brutal physicality”. Jones copped the biggest backlash last weekend for his comments before flanker Lewis Ludlam found himself unknowingly at the centre of a heated debate on whether such talk was acceptable, despite the fact that the Northampton forward is more than smart enough to know he will not be dodging bullets when he stepped onto the Murrayfield turf.
“You’ve seen that video of them lot singing about us two years ago or whenever it was,” Genge recalled. “You can’t expect us not to take that personally. You see it – social media is massive – and then you see people trying to attack Lewis for saying ‘it’s a war’. It’s like come on. Don’t be arsey about it. We want to beat them, they want to beat us. Those are facts.”
There was also the controversy of the bottle that struck England’s head of high performance Neil Craig, though it is not known whether the missile was thrown at the team upon their arrival by a fan or whether it was caught up in the strong winds that greeted them. However, one thing that couldn’t be questioned was the boos that met Owen Farrell whenever he kicked at goal, and Genge believes had the tables been turned there would have been a very different reaction.
“You don’t feed off it because you’re focusing on the next job, but I’ll tell you for a fact, if that happened at Twickenham – which it never does – we’d be getting called ‘English this and English that – can’t believe the lack of respect from the English, X, Y and Z’.
“But it happens away at Murrayfield and everyone is happy about it; saying, ‘Oh, it’s good for the game’.”