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Genge hits back at allegation that England tactic left sour taste

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Ellis Genge has hit back at critics who claimed the England tactic of having the loosehead stand in the backfield and run the ball back into French traffic in last month’s Guinness Six Nations sapped the energy from his legs for scrummaging. Eddie Jones tactically tried to mix things in the round five England match at the home of Grand Slam-chasing France two and a half weeks ago.

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One of his attacking gambits was to have prop forward Genge loitering away from the collision zone in order to gather kick receipts or take passes from other catchers and run the ball back at full pelt. That resulted in Genge being the England player who made the most metres in that Six Nations game for his team other than Marcus Smith.

The front-rower accumulated 110 metres from his ten carries, a number that only out-half Smith eclipsed with his 154 metres from a dozen carries, and it was something that was much commented on in the aftermath of a loss that consigned England to a second successive campaign where they won just two of their five Six Nations games.

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For instance, both Jim Hamilton and Andy Goode of The Rugby Pod were initially delighted to see Genge show up in the backline running the ball back at the French. However, that enthusiasm was tempered by the realisation that it highlighted how limited the England tactics were that they had to rely on a prop to run the ball back – and there was also the allegation that it sapped the front-rower’s energy when it came to his bread and butter of doing a job at the scrum.

“I loved the way how they used him in the backline,” suggested Hamilton at the time. “But you know what, that shows me the worry with England, the fact that you have got to use your loosehead prop. I know you play to your strengths but the fact was that there was no one else in that backline who could do what Gengey was doing in terms of carrying.”

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Goode added: “I loved the fact that they used Gengey back there but we used him all the time, so imagine your loosehead prop running it back – and he made more metres than any other England player – and then you ask him to go and scrum against the biggest tighthead in the world [Uini Atonio] and then we got a penalty given away at scrum time. Our scrum was under pressure.”

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Genge, though, has now had his say on the ball-carrying tactic that England used him for and his view was at odds with the pundits. Appearing at this week’s Leicester media briefing on Tuesday ahead of their Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 trip two Clermont, the prop said: “I have seen a lot of people saying because I was dropped to the backfield that it took away from my legs at the scrum which I don’t think was the case. 

“I have seen a lot of stuff online from the press and I can only comment on what I have seen. We knew they [France] were going to kick them really long, that is what they do. A really good kicking side so we thought, ‘Right, put me back there, carry it up a few times and we will get them on the second phase’. 

“I thought the game plan was quite good but jeez man, they [France] were firing. All credit to them but no, I thought I was used well. We executed the game plan reasonably well, we just gave away a few penalties and got turned over too much.” 

The overall assessment of how Genge played for England across the Six Nations was massively positive, though, as he started in all five games for the first time to consolidate why he is now the first coach No1 under Jones. The player revealed that a verbal rocket from his father last year considerably helped his form.  

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“I won’t argue that I am probably playing my best rugby. I think I have had games in the past where I have been significantly better than what I have played in recent months. I had a European game at Castres in 2017 where I was ripping it up but I never put together consistent performances. It was always a once in a blue moon sort of thing. 

“I have seen a highlights video and all the clips were in all these old Leicester kits and I said, ‘I better pull my finger out because I’m not playing well enough to make the highlights reel’. My old man sat down with me and said, ‘You have a bit of smoke blowing out your arse’ and ‘You are not as good as you think you are’ sort of thing. That checked me. That was about a year ago and I have made a change to that in recent months.  

“I was happy, I thought I played alright. Really enjoyed myself off the pitch. A new leadership group, I thought we did really well together, gelled off the pitch. That was what we told away from it. I really enjoyed my time there. 

“Maybe I am getting used a bit differently. I don’t think I have tremendously added stuff to my game, it’s probably that I am maturing as a player and learning how to use my own skillset better as opposed to waiting for stuff to happen, going and making it happen myself a bit more is probably the approach I have taken.” 

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