Ellis Genge has told of the mental toll rugby’s lockdown winter has taken on players shut away in a bubble for weeks on end.
And he has warned Ireland that England fully intend to finish the Six Nations on a high this Saturday to ensure all their sacrifices are not in vain.
Leicester’s bleach-blond prop is into his eighth week in championship isolation, from which Red Rose players and staff have only twice emerged.
Before that they were shut away for long periods between October and December as rugby made up for time lost to the summer sporting shutdown.
Genge said: “I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy to be in the same place, every day, for that amount of time. It’s just horrible. I think it’s taken its toll on people psychologically.”
Since late October England have played nine Tests in three tournaments. It would have been 10, but for the Barbarians’ Covid cancellation.
Although they won both the 2020 Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup they lie fourth in the current standings and must win in Dublin to avoid finishing outside the top four for only the second time in Six Nations history.
“Our view is we have sacrificed all these freedoms that we usually have, so let’s pull together and make something out of it,” Genge said. “As opposed to letting the opportunity pass by.
“Because it is hard being around so many people a lot of the time that you don’t necessarily want to be with because you are young.
“You want to get out and do stuff. I have a son at home and a dog, who I leave dearly, who I can’t walk. Stuff like that. I want to see my family: my nieces, my mum, my nan, my friends. It is a general thing.
“You are always thinking about rugby, because you’re here at England camp. So it’s key to take that hour or two to wind down. Play computer, or get a social hit outside with a coffee.”
Genge admits it has been harder than he expected but is not looking for sympathy, appreciating that many up and down the land have had an infinitely tougher time of it.
“Boys aren’t going around moaning that ‘I don’t want to be in the bubble’,” he said. “Nobody wants to do that because you don’t want to sap and take away from the boys. We are all in it together.
“This group has invested in each other and we have all agreed to make this sacrifice together and now, quite late in the competition, we are starting to see the benefits of that.”
England are, however, wary that Ireland will be an emotional force at the Aviva following CJ Stander’s announcement that this is to be his last Test.
“They’ll want to send him off on a high,” said lock Jonny Hill. “From their point of view it’s about CJ going out with a bang.”