Ellis Genge described Leicester’s crowning as English champions as the best moment of his career, only for it to be soured hours later by the latest example of abuse by social media’s underclass.
A Twitter user congratulated the Tigers captain on the win, before sending in his next direct message the single word beginning with N that conjures the worst of humanity’s history of racism.
Genge anonymised the tweet before reposting it. He described such messages as “commonplace”, before urging that “socials/law should come down on it”.
Hopefully, Genge then resumed celebration of Leicester’s triumph without a further thought. Twice in the aftermath of the match he hailed the nail-biting win, clinched by Freddie Burns’ drop goal in the last minute, as the highlight of his career. “I’d say so,” he said. “I’ll reflect on it at a later date, but I’ve hardly won anything. We’ve always been quite close runners-up in my career so far.”
And sometimes not even that. Genge joined Leicester in 2016, signing from Bristol, to where he will return this summer.
During his six years at Welford Road, the Tigers’ fortunes have plumbed depths hitherto unexplored by English rugby’s grandest club.
The erstwhile champions of everything finished 11th out of 12 in consecutive seasons in that time. For the second, two seasons ago, the only reason they were not relegated was the small matter of the 105 points Saracens, their vanquished opponents on Saturday, were deducted, courtesy of their salary cap violations.
Genge described how the fans flung their season cards at the players during those dark times. Fast forward a couple of years and they were in more adoring voices, which made the 70,000 gathered in Twickenham feel like a home crowd.
“I loved hearing the Tigers chant,” Genge said. “It was overwhelming, and the lap at the end was absolutely brilliant. They’ve been reasonably consistent. I sort of understood [the fans’ reaction] when we were 11th, but they’ve been incredible in my time here. This is what they deserve, as diehard fans. This is what you get if you stick by a team.”
The Midlands love flowing round south-west London was rich and bountiful, so many stories within stories, and Genge rattled through them all with aplomb. His tribute to the retiring Tom Youngs, the man he replaced as captain, who lost his wife, Tiffany, to cancer only the week before last, was beautiful.
Other tributes followed: to Burns, the match-winner, a champion at last at 32; to George Ford, who limped off in the first half in his last game for Leicester; to the club men behind the scenes, the Smiths, Brett Deacon et al; to the agonies the players endured at the coalface trying to rouse themselves from those recent nadirs; to Steve Borthwick, whose reign has coincided with Leicester’s upturn in fortunes.
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“Steve’s brilliant. I met him first when he came to Bristol [in 2015] after a successful time in Japan. He’s watched me grow since then. He’s quite hard on me, keeps me grounded. I hope he doesn’t mind staying in contact with me for the next 12 months!”
Genge noted with a grin that the time for celebration will be fierce, but not as long as one might think. He pledged to “blow the roof off it”, but will soon be reporting to camp with England before the three-Test tour of Australia. No sooner return from that, and he will be packing for a return to his home club of Bristol, who have endured a mini-slump of their own since they finished the 2020-21 regular season as Leicester did this one, in top spot.
The lot of the modern rugby player shows no signs of easing. With blood still oozing from his brow, Genge looked and spoke as if he would have it no other way. Days such as his at Twickenham this weekend are why they keep coming back for more. And why the background hum of social media should be dismissed with contempt.