Ellis Genge’s interview after England’s win over Scotland was one of the best I’ve heard for a long time. It was raw, it was honest, it was passionate and ultimately he was defending his team. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said but I loved the way he said it. The amount of grief he got because of it beggars belief. One person tweeted they could not believe that Ellis almost swore on TV. Almost swore?!
I’ve been scratching my head ever since, trying to work out just why so many people had a problem with it and I can’t help but think the problem is with closed minds. There seems to be an archaic view of what rugby should be, of what “rugby values” are, but the idea that all players should behave, look or sound a certain way is nonsense.
Ellis wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t disrespectful and Eddie Jones loved it. He looked almost like a proud father afterwards. Every coach wants players to go out and express themselves and, within obvious boundaries, that has to apply off the pitch as well. A lot of people in the world struggle to be themselves and we should celebrate someone who does. It’s a sign that we are seeing a happy Ellis Genge – and why shouldn’t he be given the way he is performing for England?
It is often said rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes but it must also be a game for people from all different backgrounds, all sorts of characters, warts and all. Ellis is very proud of where he comes from. Everyone wants to get to new territories: well, the more territories you get to the different sounds you’re going to have. And Ellis relates to people who traditionally would not be associated with rugby. Speak to any broadcaster and they are all desperate to capture the attention and the imagination of the 18-35 demographic. Ellis relates to that generation. There will have been people watching his interview thinking: “Oh, I thought rugby was just for public school boys who went to Eton.” It should be embraced that he proves that is not the case. Isn’t it fantastic we have an England team full of different sounds and backgrounds, all united by one common cause?
There would have been a lot of people watching Saturday’s game and the moment Ellis had a swig of his beer they would have loved it and been cheering in the pub as if England had won the World Cup. If you’re of a certain age, or of a certain persuasion when you’ve been watching rugby for the last 30 years, it has been about public school, university, well-paid jobs and chinos as rosy as your cheeks, then it seems you may not have liked it – but that’s not the world we live in.
Rugby is changing – Jones made the point after England’s quarter-final win over Australia at the World Cup, “come into modern rugby, join us”. I think part of the problem is that people can be afraid of change.
Ellis will mature and develop but this is Ellis right now and why isn’t he being fully accepted for it? Because some people don’t like the way he sounds or the way he has constructed his sentences? He has social awareness and a consciousness of people who are just like him. He knows that rugby gave him an opportunity. For him to embrace his journey and try and feed back in and have that awareness is outstanding. It shows a high level of maturity.
We live in a world where everyone judges everyone anyway so all you can do is be yourself. And Ellis was just being himself. I’d love to hear more from him. He’s open, he’s honest, he’s candid. I didn’t agree with everything he said: for example there is no way the media said anything after the France defeat that was harsher than what was said in the Monday morning review with the players. Not a chance. And I’ve never heard a player complain about getting too much praise in the press.
But Ellis is getting praise for some of his performances of late and rightly so. In England’s two Six Nations matches so far he has been like a coiled spring. He’s someone who I think is naturally enthusiastic and energetic. I’ve got to know Ellis pretty well and he’s a great, colourful character.
He has always been incredible in the loose but I think his scrummaging has come on leaps and bounds recently. I’m sure it has always been a big focus but it has always been trumped by what he can do ball in hand. He’s maturing as a player too. It’s not just erratic involvements, trying to run over people. There are subtleties to his game now, he runs at shoulders rather than just trying to smash into defenders and we saw how shrewd he is with his try. Maro Itoje initially went for the pick and go but as good a carrier as Maro is, he’s 6ft 6in and making ground in that situation was always going to be difficult. Ellis recognised that and understanding his ball-carrying ability because of his lower centre of gravity he seized the initiative and ended up scoring the try that won the Calcutta Cup.