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England prop Ellis Genge said the backing of pundits means "f--- all" for his hopes of featuring on a first Lions tour, after the Leicester loosehead revealed that he had received no correspondence from head coach Warren Gatland enquiring as to his availability to travel to South Africa this summer.
Genge's performance in Leicester's comeback victory over Ulster in last Friday's Challenge Cup semi-final drew praise from 2017 Lions captain Sam Warburton on BT Sport, with the former Wales flanker saying that he would “definitely” have Genge in his squad to face the Springboks. In characteristically forthright fashion, however, Genge was unmoved by the comments.
“It means f--- all unless you get picked, doesn’t it?” the 26-year-old said. “It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. My old man had me as captain but he doesn’t pick the squad. If you don’t get picked, none of the outside noise matters.”
Telegraph Sport revealed on Monday how several Premiership players were still in contention for Lions selection ahead of Thursday’s squad announcement. Marcus Smith, Ben Spencer, Sam Simmonds and Danny Care all received a “save the date” email from Lions management, signalling that they had been included on Gatland's long-list of players.
When asked if he had received similar correspondence, Genge joked: “I think my emails are broken,” before adding, “No, I haven’t got one, mate.
“I’m getting my carpets cleaned on Thursday and the TV’s in that room so I won’t be in there. I’ll have my phone with me, but I haven’t had any emails so I'd assume [it's a no].”
With Genge seemingly having received the cold shoulder from Gatland, alongside Ben Youngs pulling out of a second successive tour due to family reasons, George Ford is Leicester's only realistic hope of representation on this summer's tour. But if the England fly-half is not selected, then it would be the first time since 1968 that a Lions tour would take place without a Tiger.
If Gatland and his assistants were spurred into a last-minute change of heart following Genge's punchy showing at Welford Road on Friday night, however, the loosehead would be more than willing to embark on the “once-in-a-career opportunity”, even if it meant more time away from his young family and seven-month old son, Ragh - “He p----- on me earlier” - in another Covid bubble.
“I won’t bulls--- you - I wouldn’t have pulled out (of Lions consideration),” Genge added. “Lenny (Ben Youngs) has been there and done it. I would have gone given the opportunity. But I’ve enjoyed being back with the family and it helps when you’re enjoying your time at the club as well.
“My partner and my family and my son - who doesn't say much at the moment - would all understand the sacrifice that I would be willing to make.
"I would be willing to make that sacrifice if I was given the opportunity. Time will tell; I’m sure my family and friends would understand.
“I want to win games for Leicester, I want to win trophies. That’s my goal and I’ve got an opportunity to do that now. I’d be Lion - lying! - if I said I was thinking about [the Lions] during the game. But of course I reflected on it afterwards.”
Someone who would understand both sides of the Lions coin is Steve Borthwick. Genge's head coach at Leicester marshalled the forwards in the successful 2017 tour to New Zealand, which ended in a tied series, and this year reportedly turned down an offer for a consecutive appearance in Gatland's coaching team to focus on his club commitments.
“It sounds like something he'd give up, because he wants to make us a trophy-winning team in the Premiership,” Genge said of Borthwick. “He's one of those blokes that says they’re going to do something and then does it - and everyone appreciates that about him. If you were inside our camp at the moment, you'd understand what we've got building.”
Leicester, along with the 11 other Premiership clubs, observed last weekend's social-media blackout, an electronic protest against the online abuse of sportspeople. Genge, who is mixed race, has been a regular target for online hate and racist abuse, but he does not believe that a short period of radio silence will be enough to stem the tide.
He says: “I don't think turning social media off for three days is going to stop trolls... obviously I’m going to support what everyone else is doing and I won’t be the one black sheep, ironically, that falls away, but I don't think it’s going to have a huge effect.
“Probably the opposite, actually. If you are genuinely one of those people that goes around trolling and making accounts to abuse people then I don’t think rugby, with its small following on social media, is going to have a huge impact.
“Obviously now it's getting people talking about it, opening up other doors and other avenues for us to explore and making everyone aware of it, so I don't believe in doing nothing about it and I'm happy that they've one something about it.
“But do I think that turning social media off for three days is going to stop trolls? No, it’s not going to do anything of the sort.”
Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes set to return in time to prove fitness for Lions tour
By Daniel Schofield
Lions hopeful Manu Tuilagi could return to action as early as next week with Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson insisting that the centre will be up to speed if required to face the Springboks.
Tuilagi has been out since September with an achilles injury and it is a sign of his world-class talent that he is still being strongly considered for selection by Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Sanderson says that the achilles is fully healed but they are taking no chances on rushing Tuilagi’s return given his chequered injury record.
While Sale’s match against Bath on May 14 is a tentative target, Sanderson believes Tuilagi will be available to play the final three regular games of the season in late May and early June followed by further two play-off matches should the Sharks qualify. Sanderson has not spoken directly to Gatland, but he has no doubt Tuilagi can find both fitness and form in time to make an impact for the Lions.
“What we are guarding isn’t his Achilles,” Sanderson said. “His Achilles is fine. It is making sure he does not re-injure himself through a soft tissue injury. It is our job to get him up to game fitness before he plays. I don’t want to throw him in there at 80 per cent. He will re-injure himself, he has the history of doing that.
“I can only talk for myself, I can’t talk from Warren’s perspective, but it was not a leap of faith for us to sign him. It is a calculated risk and a good one. I’ve no doubt we’ll get him back to playing his best rugby. He wants to come back and be brilliant again. I think he will find form, whether or not Warren wants to take Manu Tuilagi with the Lions, that is his choice.”
“If I were to back anyone to come back and be at his best, it would be him. If it was just about him coming back, earning a crust and seeing out the last few years, I don’t think he would be here. He would be somewhere else where they would pay him more money and he would have an easier ride.”
Northampton’s coaching staff are also confident that loose forward Courtney Lawes will be back before the end of the season having been out since February with a chest injury. “How many games he will need to play to prove his fitness to Warren Gatland I am not sure,” Phil Dowson, the forwards coach, said. “Having said that, Courts has played a lot of international rugby and Premiership rugby so you know what you are going to get from him. He is very experienced so he knows what he needs to do to come back in good form to knock out 60 minutes in a game. He is at a stage of his career now where he knows what he needs. He will have a good understanding about what he needs to do.”
Meanwhile, USA are set to face England and Ireland in London and Dublin on July 3 and July 10 respectively, which could preclude Irish coaches Andy Farrell and Paul O’Connell from linking up with the Lions in South Africa.