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How 'loved' Ellis Genge tactic ultimately left sour England taste

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

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It was quite an eye-catching statistic, prop forward Ellis Genge emerging as the England player that made the most metres away to France other than Marcus Smith during last Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations defeat. The loosehead recorded 110 metres from his ten carries, a number that only out-half Smith eclipsed with his 154 metres from a dozen carries. 

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Midfielder Joe Marchant, with 106 from nine carries, was third-best overall on the list of the 22 England players who played in Paris while the next-best forward was Sam Simmonds with 70 metres from 14 carries. The numbers for the forwards then level off, with tighthead Will Stuart the next-best carrier with 37 metres from seven carries.  

Both Jim Hamilton and Andy Goode were enthused on this week’s edition of The Rugby Pod to see Genge show up in the backline running the ball back at the French, but 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. There was also the issue that it sapped the front row’s energy when it came to his bread and butter of doing a job at the scrum.  

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Hamilton kick-started the reflection on the show about the 25-13 Stade de France defeat, claiming he enjoyed the action he saw on TV from France before flying home from Ireland following the Triple Crown game versus Scotland.  

“That was a hell of a Test match and looking at it from my point of view at the airport in Dublin, it looked like the French had a couple of more gears. They never look like losing and that was the most impressive thing. England, I thought the game plan was great, I thought they were good… I thought they played well. Did you not?”

Goode didn’t agree. “Not until we are 18-6 down, no. They [France] should have carved us open. Had it not been a Grand Slam game and a bit of anxiousness around some of the passes… we could have been 20-odd points down at half-time… I thought 25-13, I am looking at it going in reality I reckon that is a 40 points to 13 game had France taken their opportunities.

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“Eddie Jones’ tactics I think are really clueless. You have got players that are ripping it up in the Premiership in a certain way for their clubs. Stick them in an England shirt and it’s all about kicking. I have never seen Marcus Smith kick so much in all my life. Tactically I disagree with you, Jim. I thought we were inept at times.”

This teed it up for Hamilton to come back in and steer the conversation to the England role played by Genge. “I am looking at it from that point of view where I thought the tactics, in my mind, were how I would have gone about it. Anyway, I was a forward, I enjoyed the game, I enjoyed the physicality. I thought Gengey was exceptional. 

“I loved the way how they used him in the backline. 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.” 

Goode didn’t agree that Genge was the only England forward capable of putting up a gallop. “I disagree with that. 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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“Whereas I liked Gengey doing that, Sam Simmonds, look what Shaun Edwards said about him the other day, he is like a running back in the NFL so why didn’t they have Sam Simmonds back there as well, interchange him with Ellis Genge? Sam Simmonds is a devastating ball runner back. 

“You are not going to run straight at someone and Gengey, all he was going to do was get the ball and run back at someone and he is going to get tackled. He is going to win the gain line. I saw Paul Willemse try to monster him, he’ll bounce one and someone else will take him down. 

“I thought it was great that he was back there for one or two occasions but you have sapped the complete energy out of him to do anything else. And this is the thing, you have got Sam Simmonds, you have got (Alex) Dombrandt…”

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