Posted on August 03 2020
GCH ATHLETE: Ellis Genge
Rugby is changing – Eddie Jones made that point after England’s quarter-final win over Australia at the World Cup, “come into modern rugby, join us”.
The point may have been lost on some viewers, but you don’t need to look that far into the men that comprised England’s World Cup Squad to see what he meant. This is a time where the physical, political and traditional cultural boundaries of rugby are shifting - and I for one am relishing seeing the old hymn sheets ripped up.
Rugby has always worn the stiff upper lip, public schooled demeanour with ease - of the the comapriosn of football to rugby “played by thugs\gentlemen ec. Etc” is the one banded about on social media platforms by out of touch hacks who think they know the game (that comment will probably piss people off but I’m not here to make friends)
But rugby is changing and the man in the middle of it is Ellis Genge. Let’s get this out the way first, Genge is an incredible rugby player - his sheer physicality, power and desire to compete is what you see, but he has subtle hands and dynamism that you won’t find in some back-rowers, let alone a hard scrummaging front row. Just look at his uncompromising hits on current international team mates in the Gallagher Premiership and his notable contributions at the 2019 World Cup.
That is what sets him apart - Chip Kelly the famous Oregon State Coach once said that you should be able to turn up to a practice and in 5 minutes know what that team stands for and how they play the game. You get that immediately from Ellis. But what also draws you in about him, alongside his ability on the pitch is his brutal honesty. There is no bullshit - he doesn’t buy into he conformity that so many do. He is a media trainers nightmare - and that is why he is so good for the game. He says it how it is.
When questioned why he hadn’t used his platform to comment on the recent removal of Edward Colston’s statue in a way that people wanted, his response was blunt: “I will use my platform as I see fit’. Another example, when prompted by a certain England colleague for his reposes to an NFL player's controversial tweet stating that he would "dominate rugby" Genge's response..."I'd fold him up like a deck chair!"
He has revelled in a changing game, brought about by Eddie Jones. Phil Jackson, the legendary Chicago Bulls coach was once asked how he dealt with Dennis Rodman; “I let him be himself” was the answer - because he knew how important Rodman was to the team and what he could bring. Genge is left to be himself, because that is why he is so good.
Jackson knew how important Rodman was to the team and what he could bring. Genge is left to be himself, because that is why he is so good.
Some academies today, but not all, find young players with talent, sign them then tell them how they have to be, they spend 3 years working on what they aren’t good at, not what they are good at and what makes them who they are. This is where Ellis breaks the mould. He is who he is, you can’t change it. He says it how it is; whether that is his view on players salaries, rooming with public school boys in junior England camps or drinking a beer and calling out the out of touch journalists after his match wining try against Scotland.
That is why so many young kids revier him. Growing up in the mild mild west, there wasn’t much to keep him out of trouble and he often talks about the lack of accessibility rugby offered in a city like Bristol. To that end, he has set up Baby Rhino - holiday and 1:1 rugby camps for children in the city with a view to expanding in the coming years. “He’s doing it for the money and to cash in on his popularity” came some of the critics - no, he is doing it to provide the opportunity to kids in a similar position, so that they can break the mould that for so long players have had to sig up to.
Rugby will keep its ethos, it will keep its traditions and its values; but it needs to change and Genge is driving this forward. He is a breakthrough for the game - he is the inspiration his game needs, have the talent but always be you and fuck the rest - if you’re good enough, you should be good enough. Your ability, not where you went to school is what should open up doors in this game.
There is a danger that Genge will be remembered more for what he represents off the pitch than on it - but with his ability, physicality, potential upcoming Lions tours and England’s 6 nations resumption as well as starring for a new look Leicester - we’ll soon be reminded why ON and OFF the pitch, he is so important to the development and the soul of the game.