Leicester DNA was the topic of conversation for Matt O’Connor this week and here was conclusive proof that Ellis Genge has it in spades. The 22-year-old loosehead scored two tries in a bonus-point victory and snarled throughout while the captain, Ben Youngs, sent Warren Gatland a timely reminder of his Lions credentials with a superb individual score.
“[Ben’s] world class. He’s done it his whole career,” said O’Connor, the Leicester head coach who celebrated victory on his first match at Welford Road since his return to the club. “He’s as good as there is at nine in the world at the moment. The added responsibility of being captain worked in his favour, he’s a world-class player that delivers most weeks.” Asked if Gatland should select him, O’Connor added: “I’d say so, how could you not pick him?”
Genge has an attitude about him that has long since convinced Eddie Jones. He has already endeared himself to the Welford Road faithful and there can be little doubting he was the catalyst for a victory which tightens their grip on fourth place following Bath’s defeat at Worcester. “[Genge] is uncompromising, he’s very, very good and he’s got enormous growth in him because he’s got all the things we want in a Leicester player,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor’s predicament is a strange one. On the evidence of a laborious first half it is hard to see Leicester living with any of the top three, but there is pride at stake before he fully puts his stamp on the club after his four-year absence next season – Leicester have not failed to make the play-offs since 2004.
Despite Freddie Burns’s best efforts the first 39 minutes were ugly viewing but Genge’s first try on the stroke of half-time was pivotal and it was his dominance at the scrum that prompted David Wilson’s yellow card soon after the break. Newcastle’s director of rugby, Dean Richards, questioned the legality of Genge’s scrummaging however and pointed to what else he believed had been missed by the referee, Ian Tempest.
“There were two knock-ons which were deliberate and we didn’t even get a penalty from them,” he said. “As soon as we saw Tempo was refereeing we knew it was going to be a difficult game. We looked at the refereeing quartet and we knew they would be influenced very heavily by the Leicester crowd because the Leicester crowd are like that.”
The Tigers had begun the match like a side determined to impress the new boss but, while Burns endeavoured to conjure an opening, the ball simply went to ground too often. Mike Williams’ desperate attempt to cling on to Burns’ miss-pass rather summed up the Tigers in the opening 39 minutes.
A Burns penalty had given Leicester the lead, cancelled out by Joel Hodgson but an error-strewn first half sprung into life when the Newcastle captain, Will Welch – who warrants at the very least consideration for England’s summer tour to Argentina – burst through the Leicester line and fed Hodgson, who found Niki Goneva on the right. The former Tigers wing jinked inside Telusa Veainu but Youngs made a superb covering tackle to snuff out the danger.
Burns added another penalty before Genge barrelled over from close range just before the break and he hammered home Leicester’s superiority at the scrum soon after the restart, prompting Wilson’s departure to the sin-bin.
After another scrum penalty Leicester put the ball through the hands and Burns released Veainu into the corner with a simplicity that belied the Tigers’ failure to produce that sort of score earlier.
Leicester’s third try came after Dan Cole was held short following a delightful offload from Youngs – with Genge on hand to splash over by the posts. Cue some afters with Genge at the heart of it. It left the Tigers with more than 20 minutes to seal the bonus point and it was the effervescent Youngs who secured it – nine minutes from time –with a trademark dart down the right after a quick tap.