Ellis Genge is surprised at the way his career is progressing. He didn’t think he would become a captain, but he has. He didn’t think he’d move on from being an ‘angry kid’, but he has.
On Saturday afternoon, the 26-year-old prop will lead Leicester out against London Irish in Brentford as the Tigers go hunting for their fourth successive win of the new Premiership season.
Under Genge’s command, Leicester have surged to the top of the table with victories over Exeter, Gloucester and Saracens. The skipper’s passion has been evident in the team’s commitment.
Leicester have stormed to the top of the Premiership under the captaincy of Ellis Genge
Later this month, the loosehead is sure to rejoin the England squad for the autumn Test campaign at Twickenham, having served as a vice-captain with the national team during the summer.
It would appear that he is becoming the player Eddie Jones hoped he would —ferocious and abrasive but also increasingly mature and savvy.
Asked if he feels that he’s fulfilling that vision, Genge said: ‘I don’t know. I’m definitely not the player I thought I was going to be. I just thought I’d always be that relatively anti-social, angry kid who ran around doing what he wanted. But luckily, I’ve seen the light.
‘Eddie’s obviously got an eye for it — that’s why he’s done so well. He’s an incredible person in terms of the psychology of the sport and how to get the best out of characters. He’d probably say this is exactly the way he thought I’d go!’
Genge has won 30 England caps, often understudying Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler, who have taken turns to wear the No 1 shirt for several years.
Genge has battled the perception that he was an on-field explosion waiting to happen
The Bristolian force of nature could be forgiven for being desperate to make the position his own now, but he insists that he is content to fit in as needed, ahead of November encounters with Tonga, Australia and South Africa.
‘I’ve sat there sometimes and thought, “I should be starting”, but when I’ve come off the bench and had an impact, Eddie will say, “That’s why you’re a finisher”. I’ve just thought, “Fair play, you know what you’re on about”.’
The growth area on his c.v. is leadership. He had long since felt like a senior figure with some influence at Leicester, and had stood in as skipper on an occasional basis. But when Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick asked him in the summer whether he would take on the club captaincy, he was taken aback.
‘I really didn’t see it coming,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think I’d be a candidate, at club level or country, so it was a shock to me. You hear whispers and people saying, “Ellis, what about captaincy?”. But I just ignored it because I didn’t believe it was a role that would be suited for me.
‘When he (Borthwick) offered it to me, I said, “As long as it doesn’t affect the way I am around the club and you don’t expect me to act any differently”. He said, “Of course I don’t — but you have to stop turning up late!”. I live quite far from the training ground and I’d always turn up a minute before meetings. I leave a lot earlier now!’
The 26-year-old had long since felt like a senior figure with some influence at Leicester
For many years, Genge has battled perceptions that he was an on-field explosion waiting to happen. He appeared to turn that particular corner some time ago, but he continues to be mindful of the need to be seen to keep out of trouble. He refers to ‘damage limitation’ during matches now that he is captain. So what does that mean?
‘I’m not going to reveal the dark arts but I have to keep my head on now and make sure I don’t put the team at risk,’ he said. ‘I’ve made sure I am very much on the edge but not tipping over it, but I would say that it’s a bit of a preconceived idea that I am over-aggressive.
‘Perhaps that has ironed itself out, with the captaincy side of things. Everyone has said, “Oh, he’s calmed down”, but I don’t think I’ve calmed down at all! It’s just people see someone in a captaincy role and assume they’re a bit calmer.’
The Bristolian force of nature is surprised at the way his career is progressing
Part of the art of rugby captaincy is the interaction with referees. On that score, Genge feels he is settling well. ‘I think maybe a few of them still have that perception of me being a hothead,’ he said. ‘But a few of them have started speaking to me in a different way.
‘I’ve always had a good relationship with refs. They have the authority to tell you to shut up and I talk quite a lot, so when they tell me to shut up, I don’t take it personally. I know when to bite my lip. I’d like to think I haven’t upset anyone yet!’
Captaincy demands a knack for saying the right thing at the right time to officials and team-mates. Genge is a passionate character and he brings that to his pre-match speeches. He demands commitment and then demonstrates it himself. The formula is working.
The prop forward is becoming the player England head coach Eddie Jones hoped he would
‘Week to week, you can’t give the same messages to the boys,’ said Genge — speaking to Sportsmail after Umbro’s 2021-22 England kit launch. ‘It would fall on deaf ears. The boys would be saying, “Oh f****** hell, he’s off again”.
‘I think you have to be emotive. You have to pull on boys’ heartstrings and you have to be personal. If you use a name, it suddenly becomes personal and boys want to go and do it. Steve (Borthwick) is good with that. He tells me it’s a good way to speak in meetings.
‘It’s definitely a bit old-school, the old fire-up — which I guess is a bit of a lost art. I’ll just say whatever comes into my mind.
Tigers go hunting for their fourth successive win of the new Premiership season on Saturday
‘We’ve done all right so far, but it’s definitely been a gradual change. There’s no magic potion. We’ve been building for a long time. We had some disappointing results last year but now we can see the fruits of our labour.’
There are two significant sporting occasions in Genge’s sights today. First, he wants to lead Leicester to a fourth win from four and consolidate their eye-catching revival.
Then he will turn to boxing — staying up to watch Tyson Fury’s third fight against Deontay Wilder.
‘Everyone is saying that Fury will win,’ he said. ‘He dominated him last time and knocked him out in the seventh. But with heavyweight boxing, who knows?’
Fury takes some stopping — and the same could be said for Genge, who may keep surprising himself for years to come.
Ellis Genge is an Umbro ambassador. Purchase Umbro’s new England Rugby range from umbro.co.uk