Ellis Genge is a brilliant player and a refreshingly honest commentator on the state of rugby at present. Somebody convinced that rugby must expand beyond its old social and geographic glass cage to grow, he is exactly the kind of player the sport need: combative, entertaining, but engaged and reflective as well. One thing he is not, however, is a perfectly media trained robot.
“It’s all a facade. It’s a business now,” Genge said, speaking to the Mail Online, regarding loyalty in rugby. “Pat Lam did an interview saying he wants Bristolians who’ve played for England and are at other clubs to come home to Bristol. He didn’t want that. That was a facade.
“You hear things from other clubs, saying they want this player or that player to stay, or they want to keep their home-grown talent, but clubs aren’t really interested in that now. The league is too volatile. Everyone just wants to win.
“As a player, you have to just look after yourself. If I wake up tomorrow and I can’t play rugby again, I’m sure these lot (Leicester) will look after me to a degree, but in six months’ time… I’ve seen it with players in the past. Nobody gives a f***. Let’s be real.”
He went on, the emotion absolutely palpable, “I’m over it. I don’t see myself as a Bristol player any more — I’m a Leicester Tiger. Bristol blood, Leicester skin.”
Genge has since moderated his views slightly, and talking to James Haskell on House of Rugby this week backtracked, focusing more on the commodification of players, and the lack of support they receive upon retiring. Haskell too spoke of the absence of any contact from Wasps, a club he served well for twelve years, since he hung up his boots.
Fundamentally though, Genge’s words ring true. Much is made of controversial big money moves, Matt Banahan from Bath to Gloucester, or Elliot Daly from Wasps to Saracens, for instance, but whilst fans may like to feel angry or betrayed about such decisions, the reality is these are professional sportsmen. Such actions are a product of the environment and the culture surrounding the game.
What Genge is saying, essentially, is that in a sport awash with TV money, defined by the cutthroat sacking and hiring of coaches, where players are expected to put their bodies on the line week in week out, what do they really owe to a club? Where is the loyalty, the respect, the decency when a coach is sacked after six months? or an aging player is dropped? or a youth prospect badly injured? or a local lad with a family to care for offered double the wages by an opponent?
Money sucks the values out of things. Players are paid to train hard and play hard, which the vast majority do, so if a player chooses to move on, having honoured one half of the mutual arrangement, who can resent that? It is the nature of a sport made professional, money or morals, you cannot have it both ways. Loyalty, unless it can be manipulated into a marketing ploy, by and large got left back in the amateur era. Sadly, that’s just the way it is.
Written by Joe Ronan.