Ellis Genge urges England's leaders to empower Eddie Jones' new generation

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England's Ellis Genge. - REUTERS
England's Ellis Genge. - REUTERS

Ellis Genge suggested on Thursday that England had not “empowered” younger players well in the past as he contemplated greater leadership responsibilities within Eddie Jones’s squad ahead of the autumn internationals.

The 34-player squad, who face Tonga, Australia and South Africa on successive weekends in November, have spent this week at a training camp in Jersey, taking part in a wide-range of team-building activities.

Genge vice-captained his country in the summer and was appointed Leicester captain this season, and admits that bridging the gap between the senior and less experienced players has been one of the principal aims of the trip to the Channel Islands. Just under a third of the squad are aged 23 or younger and over half have 10 caps or fewer.

“Obviously nothing’s official yet, but I guess the senior leadership changes just with how old people get,” Genge, 26, said. “As you get more senior in the environment, play more games.... What’s important for us as senior players now is to empower these young boys.

“That’s something we maybe didn’t do very well in the past. We had all these caps, this wealth of experience and great players who had all these games under their belts, but if one of them got injured we couldn’t really replace it like for like with people who were comfortable, or very experienced in that environment, or have the charisma in that environment.

“That’s something we need to be a bit more focused on as senior leaders.”

The loosehead, who has won 29 caps, admits that he “struggled” when he first broke into the England squad – “but I would say that was more a reflection of my character as opposed to the other boys in the environment” – but that he has been impressed by the squad’s camaraderie despite the disparity in ages.

“I am definitely seeing the young boys a---ing about the place a bit more than in the past, which is a good thing,” he said.

”We have been playing a lot of cards with some of the Saints boys and some of the new lads and all of a sudden one of the older boys comes over and sits down and plays - and if they don’t play they are watching and having a little chinwag.”

Lewis Ludlam of England and Manu Tuilagi of England lead their board onto shore during the England Rugby training camp on October 27, 2021 in St Brelade, Jersey. - GETTY IMAGES
Lewis Ludlam of England and Manu Tuilagi of England lead their board onto shore during the England Rugby training camp on October 27, 2021 in St Brelade, Jersey. - GETTY IMAGES

One player to whom Genge has taken a particular shine is Newcastle’s Adam Radwan. The 23-year-old has been making a name for himself as one of the most explosive wings in the Premiership, while Jones last week opined that the Falcon “could end up the best wing in the world”. Radwan is someone who has received Genge’s considerable arm around his shoulder.

“I try [to do that to] everyone in this group,” Genge said. “Out of all of them, though, probably Radwan [the most] – he’s a weird little cat. I get on very well with him and keep him close to me.

“He’s in the same mould [as Jonny May] and they are obviously very similar people - both very, very fast. He’s just a fruity little badger.”

Genge also described another of his Leicester team-mates, uncapped hooker Nic Dolly “as a weird fella”.

“I think rugby players are just weird, to be honest,” he says. “You have got to sit down and chat to them to [gauge] what I mean.

"In high-end sport, you have got to be a bit tapped to be the best. Everyone has seen the documentaries of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman; they are not normal people. I am not comparing us to those sorts of people, but they are not normal by any stretch of the imagination. You have got to be a little bit tapped to want to be the best, because what you put your body through and the sacrifice to be the best is not for normal people.”

The Jersey camp has served, too, as a first formal rugby reunion with Genge’s mentor, Richard Cockerill. While Leicester’s director of rugby, Cockerill brought Genge to the Tigers as a fresh-faced 21-year-old from then Championship side Bristol.

“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be sitting here now,” Genge said. “When he got the England job I texted him to say congratulations. He was a big pillar in my career, he brought me into the Leicester environment and treated me so well.

“He is fitting in really well, but I am sure at some stage we will see that hard-nosed edge that we are all very familiar with in the Leicester camp. And rightly so. I think that is something that will benefit us as a forward pack. At the moment, he hasn’t had the opportunity to flare up at us. But it is inevitable - and I look forward to it.

“He’s good at marshalling, he was in a very different role with Leicester than what he is in now. He was marshalling standards; if you wore the wrong socks, he would go mental. He isn’t really running around here doing that, as standards tend to be a bit higher and boys tend to marshal themselves. I always took maintaining standards from Cockers... and don’t p--- about.”

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