England prop Ellis Genge said he was “never supposed to be here” after leading Leicester Tigers to a dramatic Premiership final victory over Saracens in his final match for the club.
Genge, who has established himself as Eddie Jones’ first-choice loosehead, will move to hometown club Bristol Bears ahead of next season but signed off at Tigers with a fairytale finish after Freddie Burns’ last-minute drop goal secured a 15-12 win at Twickenham.
Genge poignantly lifted the trophy alongside former club captain Tom Youngs, who received a raucous reception from the 72,784 at Twickenham Stadium after the recent tragic loss of his wife Tiffany to cancer.
“I think I get quite emotional the more I speak,” said Genge. “We’ve had a good year but for certain reasons obviously it’s been an emotional few weeks for us as a club. I think we’ve got everything we deserve.
“What these brilliant fans don’t see is the 8.30am starts and the 4pm finishes, relentlessly the whole way through. We’ve worked for everything we’ve got, so credit to the boys.
“I’m just buzzing for the likes of [Ollie] Chessum, Freddie Steward and James Whitcombe, all those young boys.
“At the beginning of my career I won nothing and they’ve started their careers with a Premiership trophy and hopefully they can go on and get loads of personal and team accolades. This group deserve it, I’m just trying to take it all in.
“I remember I came here on the 1st Feb 2016, I was a little scrubber from Knowle West – I wasn’t ever supposed to be here!
“For me to come to a club with so much prestige and all the greats that have played before me – to be a part of that is great for me and I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way, people I’d never thought I’d chat to let alone be mates with. For me it’s a very good day.”
Leicester took a 12-6 lead into the break after tries from South African forward duo Hanro Liebenerg and Jasper Wiese with Burns, on as a replacement for the injured George Ford after 24 minutes, converting one.
England pair Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, with a trademark monster effort, notched a penalty apiece in the first 40 before Saracens’ captain and fly-half scored a further two after the break, the latter drawing the five-time winners level with four minutes to play.
However, Burns showed nerves of steel to slot the winning drop-goal with seconds left, giving Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick one up on Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, who was his boss when the former second row captained the Men in Black to their first ever Premiership title in 2011.
And Genge was effusive in his praise for the man in charge at the East Midlands side, adding: “I just respect the bloke, he goes about his work quietly and he never wants any plaudits.
“To work as hard as he does and not get the reassurance all the time, I don’t know how he does it. If I did that, I’d need a pat on the bum every five seconds, saying ‘you are doing well’.
“He sticks to his process, he backs himself and he backs us and we’ve come away with the trophy.”
Genge is set to join up with England on Monday ahead of the summer tour to Australia before returning to the UK to link up with Pat Lam’s Bears but thanked Leicester for getting him to where he is today.
He said: “I came here a boy at 20 years old and I’m 27 now, I’m getting on!
“They’ve [Leicester Tigers] given me everything in my rugby career. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve worked hard for it but it was worth it and I’d do it all over.”