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'When you've been in the gutter and you've seen the resurgence, that's when you really feel pride'

By Chris Jones
Leicester Tigers' Ellis Genge during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park on March 27, 2022 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

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Ellis Genge knows his time with Leicester Tigers is rapidly coming to an end and having helped pull the club out of the “gutter” is determined the Premiership semi-final play off with arch-rivals Northampton will not see the curtain fall on Saturday.

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Genge, who is returning to Bristol at the end of this campaign after nearly seven years in the Midlands, has captained Leicester to finish top of the Premiership at the end of the regular season having been part of the squad that languished in 11th place in successive seasons before the arrival of Steve Borthwick in 2020 allowed them to finish sixth last season.

Now, having made history by being the first Premiership team to be top after every round of the competition this season, Genge is two wins away from lifting the trophy at Twickenham.

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There have been tough times during his Tigers career and Genge addressed that in today’s media conference and explained the difficult periods made the current success so much sweeter. He said: “I was proud to run out when we were 11th on a 13-game losing streak. The pride never disappears. Imagine you had everything brilliant and you finished top your whole career and you never knew anything different. When you’ve been down in the gutter and you’ve seen the resurgence, that’s when you really feel pride.

“I’ve taken pride in the whole process and that’s probably why this team has got to where it is now. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. If we didn’t have pride when we were 11th, we wouldn’t have got to where we are now because we wouldn’t have cared.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say I have been thinking about it being my last game at the stadium and I am still visualising how it will look like and how I want it to feel. I just want to just completely empty the tank for the supporters who have been there throughout.”

While taking the club to a Twickenham final against either Saracens or Harlequins would give Tigers the chance of a first league title for nine years, it would not earn Genge a special tie which is something that he admits is “gutting.”

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He explained: “I’ve been here almost seven years now. I think I’ll finish on 98 starts, and you don’t get a tie until 100, so that’s a bit gutting. I’ve had for the most part a great relationship with the fans I think. They’re a great set of fans. We went through that low period 2017-2019 where the relationship wasn’t great between players and fans, for obvious reasons. We weren’t performing so they put us under a lot of heat.

“I feel like we’ve come out the other side and the stadium is bouncing again and you can really feel that player-fan bond walking round. It’s quite personal, hearing them shouting your name, standing ovations when the boys come off the pitch. It’s excellent. Even internationally it’s one of the top stadiums I’ve played in. It’s a special place.

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“I have a few derbies in my time but the East Midlands one would be up there as one of the most prolific. You have to beat the drum when the time is right and not start going nuts and spitting flames too early and you have to wait til Friday and Saturday for the Any Given Sunday speeches. There is a time and a place for those and they will definitely come.”

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Genge,who has made a significant impact as captain, paid tribute to the influence of head coach Steve Borthwick and his fellow coaches, including Aled Walters who helped South Africa win the 2019 Rugby World Cup. “I think there are a few unsung heroes who like to be unsung heroes:” Genge added. “ Steve is absolutely incredible, as you probably know by now. He’s a well-decorated coach who probably doesn’t get the plaudits he deserved. I’m so happy he’s finally getting some recognition for being such a good operator. He works tirelessly, so he deserves it.

“You’ve heard all about Aled being the energy-giver that he is. There are some brilliant people at this club who don’t put their name in the hat too often that I am really going to miss dearly. I’m looking forward to making the most of my time with them over the next however many days.”

One aspect of leading Tigers that Genge is still wary about is the entry to the Mattioli Woods Welford Road pitch which involves travelling down concrete steps with fans either side of the players. “I have almost slipped a couple of times because unlike the backs we don’t wear moulds and smaller studs and there are little ledges on the steps and so you have to think about coming down them. I tend to hop over the steps and hopefully I don’t fall on Saturday.”

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