England’s Genge fires up ‘gladiatorial’ second-Test showdown with Australia

England have promised a gladiatorial contest in Saturday’s second Test against Australia after admitting they underestimated the Wallabies’ forward strength last week, with Ellis Genge’s head-to-head showdown with Taniela Tupou set to take centre stage.

The 21-stone Tupou – nicknamed the Tongan Thor – has been recalled to the Australia lineup after recovering from a calf injury and earlier in the week took aim at Genge, pledging to “smash” England’s loosehead. Genge has responded by telling Tupou to “get in line” while the England forwards coach, Richard Cockerill, has challenged the Wallabies tighthead to back up his words, all the more so because he has been out of action since April.

Eddie Jones has come in for criticism for billing the Brisbane encounter as practice for the World Cup but on the eve of the match, both Cockerill and Genge were adamant England would be up for the fight in Brisbane, where Australia have won their last 10 matches. “We want it to be gladiatorial,” said Cockerill. “We want it to be physical. That first clash is going to be great. Let’s go and see it. That is what the game is all about.

“Let’s enjoy the physical parts, the feisty parts and within the laws of the game, let’s get into it. The forward battle is going to be key and let’s look forward to it. We’re an English pack and we want to get in the middle of it. It’s about making sure that the battle of wills is really strong and we make sure that we don’t blink first.”

Genge has never locked horns with Tupou before and is relishing a contest expected to set the tone for the match. The 27-year-old conceded that England failed to get the upper hand on Australia up front in Perth – traditionally an area of strength – but Genge is adamant England will not make the same mistake again. “I was surprised and thought they were better than what we perceived they were going to be,” he said. “That was probably a bit naive on our part. Good for them. What are we going to do to turn that around? Go harder. We’ve got to be better everywhere. We’ve got to be better because we lost. It’s all or nothing for us because if we lose this game then we can’t win the series.”

Of his tussle with Tupou, he added: “I love playing against the best tightheads in the world. I have never played against him, I have never met him, I have seen his highlights reel from when he was 16, everyone has, he is a big lump isn’t he? I wouldn’t call him a fake tough man. He might be hard as nails. Who knows? Good for him, get in line. You’ve got to back it up, haven’t you? If he’s going to give me a whack he’ll give me a whack – I’ve had a few.”

Cockerill, for his part, sought to turn the tables on Tupou. The coach was in charge at Leicester when Genge joined the club in 2016 and has seen him blossom into the captain of this season’s Premiership champions before his summer move to Bristol. “Ellis is pretty self-motivated,” said Cockerill. “Tupou has not played for a little while so he’d better turn up and perform if he is going to start challenging Ellis before the game. Clearly, he [Tupou] is exceptionally explosive with ball in hand. He is a good set piece operator, but his impact in the loose, with and without the ball, is pretty good. It should be a good set piece battle between him and Ellis. It all sets it up for a nice tasty evening.

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“Ellis will get on with his game. We know those battles are going to be crucial – the physical battles up front are always crucial. We look forward to it. Bring it on. I am sure they are saying the same as us. When Gengey gets the ball, they are going to want to whack him. When [Tupou] gets the ball, we are going to want to whack him. [Genge’s] scrummaging is very consistent, he always shows good pictures and I’m looking forward to that battle – two big ball-carriers, two big, physical men, who are going to get at it. That’s what sells tickets, isn’t it? That’s what we’re looking forward to, isn’t it?”

While England are fighting to save the series, Australia can clinch the inaugural Ella-Mobbs trophy with a victory that would be further demonstration of the progress made under Dave Rennie. Of the opening victory, the captain Michael Hooper said: “It’s confirmation that we’re on the right track. It’s confirmation that things we are putting in place are working. There were a few things that didn’t go to plan last week that we had to work our way out of, and we managed to do that. The focus this week is how we can get better.”