Ellis Genge ruled out of New Zealand tour as England’s injury problems grow

Ellis Genge goes down injured after 'popping a calf' - Ellis Genge ruled out of New Zealand tour as England's injury problems grow
Ellis Genge 'popped a calf' against Harlequins - Getty Images/David Rogers

Ellis Genge has been ruled out of England’s tour of Japan and New Zealand this summer with a calf injury.

Genge was replaced in the first half of Bristol Bears’ final game of the season against Harlequins last Saturday and following a scan and consultation with a specialist, it has been confirmed that Genge will now miss England’s three-Test tour.

Genge’s injury is the latest blow to England’s pack, with Leicester’s Ollie Chessum already ruled out of the tour after surgery on a shoulder injury. That means two of the starters from the win over Ireland are now unavailable for selection this summer.

Maro Itoje, meanwhile, is close to the player welfare limit agreed between the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, with elite players limited to 35 total games or the equivalent of playing in 30 full games per season (2,400 minutes).

Pat Lam, Bristol’s director of rugby, revealed after the game against Harlequins that Genge had “popped a calf in the scrum” before he was replaced in the 37th minute.

The England vice-captain has been a prominent figure during Steve Borthwick’s tenure, starting three of England’s Six Nations matches earlier this year after returning from a foot injury.

Genge’s absence will give Borthwick an opportunity to take a look at younger prospects, including Harlequins’ highly-regarded loosehead prop Fin Baxter.

Joe Marler, Baxter’s club team-mate, turns 34 this summer and would offer valuable experience on tour. Other names to consider include Beno Obano, who featured off the bench in Genge’s absence against Italy in the Six Nations, Bevan Rodd and Tarek Haffar.

England face Japan in Tokyo on June 22, a reunion with former coach Eddie Jones, before taking on the All Blacks in Dunedin on July 6 and Auckland on July 13 – England’s first fixtures in New Zealand since 2014.

Genge absence opens door for Baxter

Fin Baxter in action for Harlequins
Fin Baxter has come of age this season - Getty Images/Patrick Khachfe

While being without your vice-captain and preferred loosehead is far from ideal, this is the tour for Borthwick to get a better look at younger players who by the end of this four-year cycle may be permanent starters. Baxter, at 22, fits that mould, just as Marler did 12 years ago when England went to South Africa and he made his debut in Durban.

In Harlequins’ run to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, Baxter was the starter with Marler coming off the bench. After Genge was used as a replacement against Wales in the Six Nations, having missed the Italy game the week before with a foot injury, Genge was the starter for the rest of the Six Nations with Marler the replacement. Having Baxter slot into that starting role with England, replicating his club tandem with Marler, almost makes too much sense.

As for the third loosehead prop slot, Bath’s semi-final against Sale Sharks next weekend could almost become a mini-shootout between Obano and Rodd. Obano featured off the bench against Italy in Genge’s absence, with Rodd ruled out at the time with a toe injury. Rodd was preferred over Obano for the Rugby World Cup, and that admittedly feels significant when trying to guess Borthwick’s thinking, even though Obano’s form has been very good for Bath this season.