ELLIS GENGE is already big in Japan.
And if England’s propzilla wants to terrorise Tokyo in 2019 – then ripping apart a Samoan scrum at Twickenham today would kick-start his World Cup push.
The mean-machine front-rower, nicknamed StoneGenge for his big hits and bulldozing carries, makes his first start at HQ – almost five years after becoming a cult hero at a schools tournament in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Back then the Leicester Tigers badboy was a no.8 before well-respected Hartpury coach Alan Martinovic transformed him.
Martinovic, now chief scout at Bristol, told SunSport: “Even as a teenager Ellis was a ferocious ball-carrier.
“We had a tournament in Japan and because of the explosive way he played, with all that power, the Japanese crowd loved him.
“People were queuing up to take pictures of him and he was being asked for interviews on national TV. Ellis was a bit of a cult hero so I’m sure if he ever wanted to go and play over there then they would love to have him!
“The stand-out thing about Ellis on the field was always his aggression. To say that he used to frighten the other kids was an understatement.
“Growing up, when there was an option to run into someone, he would do that. And he did quite a bit of damage. He got a lot of milage by playing that way, but he then realised that if he wanted to play professional rugby he needed more balance to his game.
“At one time we thought he might be better suited to rugby league because of the way he ran into people and just smashed them.
“And I remember the first time I played him at prop was in a national schools final and people probably thought I was crazy.”
Rebel Genge was constantly urged by England coaches to stick with life in the front row union – despite trying to make it as a no.8.
In 2013 Bristol offered him a one-year deal as a back-row player, but played a blinder by then doubling the terms on the table if he signed as a loosehead.
Not only did he have to learn a new trade right business end of the scrum – Genge also had to pile on some timber and was told he needed to add on 20kg in weight to make it.
After smashing England skipper Dylan Hartley to the ground in this year’s tasty East Midlands derby against Northampton Saints Genge was compared to a “baby rhino with a dart up its backside”.
He certainly ain’t no baby no more and the match-up against Samoa is the ultimate way of fighting fire with fire.
Tigers boss Matt O’Connor said: “Ellis has been outstanding for us every time he has played this year.
“He is still a young guy. He has a massive amount of potential and he needs guiding through that early part of his international career.
“Ellis has still got so much growth in him that he needs to be managed in the right way so it was probably the right decision to pick Joe Marler against Australia and probably the right decision to pick Ellis this week.”
Boss Eddie Jones took Genge to Australia last summer, but didn’t cap him once as he made the rookie wait patiently for his chance – just like he has done this autumn.
And Martinovic, who also coached Jonny May and Ross Moriarty amongst others, added: “Right now I’m sure Eddie Jones sees him as the future of English rugby and he’s made a lot of steps forward this year.
“To me Ellis has now taken his game up another level and I think what has stood out is that he can still skittle people like when he was a kid and has that relentless attitude to get ups and keep going if he gets knocked down.
“Last year he passed the ball quite a bit and hit a lot of rucks. This year he seems to have been encouraged to carry and as a late-mover to the front row he is working with excellent guys at Tigers to get him up to speed there.
“Right now I would say he is probably the ideal make-up of what people want from their front-rowers. And this Samoa game is a great test for Ellis to show just what he can do and how far he has come.”