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Ellis Genge opens up on ‘psychological toll’ of England Six Nations bubble | England rugby union team

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Ellis Genge has lifted the lid on the psychological toll of spending nearly two months in England’s biosecure bubble during the Six Nations. The loosehead prop has admitted coping with the stringent Covid protocols since late January has been far harder than expected but he has urged England to make the sacrifice worth it by finishing on a high in Ireland on Saturday.

England are preparing for the trip to Dublin with doubts persisting over Henry Slade, however, after the centre missed training on Wednesday with an ankle injury. Eddie Jones places a premium on that particular session – Elliot Daly was not in contention to start against France because he missed it last week – but the head coach is set to make a late call on Slade, with Ollie Lawrence the most likely beneficiary if he is ruled out.

Victory, meanwhile, would bookend a championship that started dreadfully for England and end a campaign in which Genge and co have been subject to strict preventive measures throughout. While England players have been granted leave to spend time with their families during the tournament’s two rest weeks, life within the camp has been subject to numerous restrictions.

At first players were unable to socialise indoors or eat meals at the same table and while they have been marginally eased since then – in agreement with Public Health England – Genge has conceded that mentally switching off has been difficult.

Faced with the prospect of two months in the bubble, Joe Marler made himself unavailable for the championship and, before the tournament began, Jones highlighted the need to continually monitor players’ mental wellbeing. Accordingly the team’s sports psychologist, Andrea Furst, has been in camp for the duration of the campaign. But Genge believes there has been a reluctance within the squad to discuss the mental burden among themselves for fear of bringing each other down.

“I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy to be in the same place, every day, for that amount of time,” he said. “Will Stuart said something the other day … he said he can’t remember life before the Lensbury [hotel]. I think it’s taken its toll on people psychologically. It’s not easy, being around people who you don’t always necessarily want to be around for this amount of time. 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.

“I don’t think everyone would have opened up as much as they should have. You don’t want to do that because you don’t want to sap and take away from the boys. We are all in it together. I feel this group has invested in each other and we have all agreed to make this sacrifice together and we are starting to see the benefits of that now quite late in the competition.”

Ellis Genge attempts to charge down a kick from Wales's Gareth Davies
Ellis Genge in action during the defeat against Wales, after which he was targeted on social media. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

After the defeat by Wales last month Genge revealed he was the subject of death threats on social media after a video emerged of him not clapping his opponents off the pitch, but the 26-year-old believes the criticism directed at England this tournament has helped to bring them closer together. “You can either choose to embrace it or ignore it and pretend it is not there,” he said.

“You feel that heat irrespective if you want to do it because we are so open. The most important thing is sticking together and not dwelling on that. For me times of darkness actually bring laughter. I think we now enjoy these situations. I think we’ll look back definitely and have a few moments that we’ll laugh about.”

England will head to Dublin out of title contention but eager to build on their rousing win over France with a number of Jones’s players – Genge included – keen to impress the watching Warren Gatland in their last Test outing before he names his squad for the British & Irish Lions’ scheduled tour to South Africa.

Genge said: “If you do make sacrifices it spurs you on to do well, it is one of those situations where we don’t want to be in this position where we have to sacrifice all these freedoms that we usually have, but let’s pull together and make something out of it.

“Obviously there’s a lot of ambiguity about [the Lions tour]. Anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t want to play or be a part of that squad.

“The way rugby is, and how it has kicked on even in four years, the finishing roles have become a lot more prevalent. You see games literally being won literally off the bench. Regardless of whether I play or not, even off the pitch there is such a big role to play, when you are touring, bringing the morale, and you need someone who’s good at sinking pints.”

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