(Reuters) - Ellis Genge is probably one of the few people who will look back on Saturday’s sodden Calcutta Cup match with any fondness after his late try helped secure England’s 13-6 win over Scotland and his post-match interview earned further rave reviews.
“I think we shut the critics up. You lose a game and suddenly you can’t play rugby any more,” he said, dismissing the “sausages who say what comes into their head.”
“We go and win in Scotland in the rain and now everyone is singing our praises,” said the 24-year-old loosehead, happily clutching a beer, who then ridiculed those calling for the head of Eddie Jones.
Genge is no stranger to speaking his mind, and his rise to the international rugby scene from a childhood growing up on a council estate in inner-city Bristol marks him out from his team mates.
“As soon as I started playing rugby, it dawned on me quickly that I had a very different upbringing to my team mates,” he told Reuters in his role as an ambassador for Land Rover last month.
“Rugby is a posh sport. Crime and gangs were very normal for the people I grew up with and I learned a lot about myself at a young age.”
Genge added he might have ended up in prison like some of the people he grew up with and emphasised his point by showing a text message from a former teacher, revealing that an old school friend had just been convicted for murder.
The Leicester Tigers player credits his close friends and family for keeping him out of any serious trouble, while England coach Jones has tried to harness his talent.
“You can tame a horse, but it’s pretty hard to put wildness into a horse,” Jones said of Genge after the win over Scotland. “I don’t think he’s ever tamed but he knows which direction to go in and he knows when to go with the pack now.”
Genge was sent to Hartpury College to develop his skills and pursue his rugby career, before being signed by Bristol Academy at the age of 18 and represented England in age-group internationals.
“So I missed that 16-18-year-old period where a lot of the teenagers get into trouble,” he said. “Going away at 16 meant I had to grow up quite quickly and look after myself.
“It was a real eye opener for me, to see all my friends back at home still getting into serious trouble while I was at college. I realised I was definitely in the right place, didn’t go back at weekends, and when I worked out I could make a career from it, I really knuckled down.”
Genge made his international debut four years ago but has remained a peripheral figure, usually appearing off the bench or starting in “secondary” matches, with Mako Vunipola preferred at loosehead.
When Joe Marler retired from internationals his prospects improved. However, Marler came back for the World Cup, leading to Genge making only a couple of replacement appearances in Japan.
He came off the bench against France in the Six Nations opener and again, with match-winning impact, in Scotland on Saturday.
Genge remains, however, committed to giving back outside of the sport. He spent time before Christmas volunteering at a children’s hospital and a charity kitchen in Bristol, handing out food and gifts to disadvantaged people. He also works to raise awareness of dyspraxia, a condition that affects movement and co-ordination.
“I definitely noticed people turn up their noses at me early on and that made me want to prove everyone wrong,” Genge said.
“I now like the role I play as someone people can relate to, people who might not be from the more ‘traditional rugby’ background and have experienced a similar childhood to my own.”
Editing by Christian Radnedge