Ellis Genge: ‘I want to give kids the help that stops them going down the same path I did’

England prop sought out a young boy to give him his shirt following victory over Italy after meeting him online and offering the help to keep him out of trouble

Jack de Menezes@JackdeMenezes
Tuesday 10 September 2019 12:28
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Rugby World Cup 2019: All you need to know

Ellis Genge’s well-documented rough road to becoming an England international is undoubtedly one of the more uncommon career trajectories given how different his life could be right now.

Had Genge continued down the wrong path that he was heading on, he could have found himself a long, long way from professional rugby. Instead, he is heading to Japan on Sunday with the rest of the England squad with the chance to inspire a nation.

Genge was arrested three times in his younger years, one of which cost him a place in the England Under-18s and the other playing a part in triggering his move from Bristol to Leicester Tigers, where he has been able to knuckle down and avoid the distraction that his hometown provided.

He has now come full circle if Friday night is anything to go by. Immediately after the match, Genge sought out a young fan who he has been speaking to through social media to give him his England shirt.

“There’s a boy who struggles with dyspraxia and so he struggles a little bit at school,” Genge revealed. “Someone reached out to me on Instagram and asked me not to mentor him but just have a chat with him. I’ve been chatting with him for a few months now. He’s a nice boy, I’ve seen him in the crowd. He’s from up here, I knew that. I luckily seen him. I said stay there and I went and saw him after the game and gave him my shirt.”

The 24-year-old has previously spoken of his desire to see rugby union change its public schoolboy image, and his attitude towards the next generation is going a long way to helping that.

Unsurprisingly though there is not enough of Genge to go around. “I get a lot of requests but it’s not plausible to give everyone a shirt or speak to everyone, but I felt I could relate to this boy and help him out. He’s improved at school and done well in his exams. I’m proud of him. He’s a rugby player. he plays in one of the academies. He plays for Gosforth I think. A prop, a good lad. In better nick than me too!

“Why do I like doing this? Cos I didn’t get a lot of help when I was younger. It led me down the wrong path. If I can help somebody help out by doing a small gesture like that I’m willing to do that.”

Genge has the reputation of rugby union’s no-nonsense hard man, who will say it how it is and not hesitate to confront trolls on Twitter if their criticism is unwarranted. That has won him a lot of fans, particularly with those from similar backgrounds who see themselves in the Leicester loosehead and dream of doing what he has done in breaking the mould to disrupt the establishment.

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But perhaps the most inspiring act that Genge can provide is what he does on the pitch, not off it. In the immediate aftermath of England 37-0 victory over Italy, while Genge was chatting away with who he hopes will be the next big thing following in his footsteps, Eddie Jones was laying down what this crop of England players have the opportunity to do.

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"It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Jones said, stood in the main reception of St James’ Park surrounding by images of Newcastle icons draped on the walls around him. “They can make history. They can be like these blokes here on the wall.

“We’ve already spoken about that and we may touch on it again. They can become someone who changes the whole course of history. The number of kids playing, the impact on their lives, they obviously get status benefits, they get financial benefits and they get their own personal happiness so it’s pretty special.”

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