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Tigers No.1 legacy safe with Genge says Ayerza

Leicester prop legend Marcos Ayerza has revealed how the joy of entrusting his beloved No.1 jersey to tyro loosehead Ellis Genge softened the blow of early retirement.

Ayerza, 34, racked up 246 appearances in 11 years at Tigers after joining from Argentinian rugby, but was forced to quit last week due to a back injury sustained in November.

However, the man acknowledged as one the best scrummaging looseheads in world rugby, with Leicester and Argentina, reckons his legacy is secure in the hands of Genge.

An emotional Ayerza told The Rugby Paper: “I’m very happy Ellis Genge has signed a new contract as he needs to become Leicester’s foundation and show love for the front row.

“Leicester have always had front row quality in guys like Rowntree, Castrogiovanni, Stankovich and Cole and now it’s great to see a young talent like Genge coming through.

“When I joined Tigers Graham Rowntree was about to retire and he told me: ‘Marcos, I want you to wear this No.1 shirt and respect it for many, many years to come.’ I did exactly as ‘Wig’ told me and now I’ve said the same thing to Genge.

“He now has the No.1 shirt and, hopefully, he can keep it and respect it and help take the club back to the highest places. I like tradition and I like young people who respect those traditions, so Genge was very happy with what I told him.

“I only see a bright future for him and it’s actually made it a lot easier to retire knowing the continuity will be there with this guy.”

Ayerza believes Genge, 22, has the requisite desire to reach the top, adding: “Genge is how I saw myself ten or 12 years ago; he’s ambitious to be the best, but he also wants to learn and that’s actually hard to find in young players.

“That willingness and desire to learn will take him far because while he has all the other attributes and skills to do it, the difference between being good and truly excellent will be his determination to learn and get better every day.”

Genge will head to Argentina with England this summer and Ayerza warns Eddie Jones’ new look side to expect a stern South American examination.

The Pumas often save their best players for the Rugby Championship, but Ayerza said: “Argentina will present a very strong pack and will want to prove themselves against the Six Nations champions.

“They are an evolving team who are now competing well in the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby so they will present a mix of the old Argentina – scrum, forward play and defence – with a Southern Hemisphere-style running game.

“There have been ups and downs for Argentina but this will be a tough series for England and they will be determined to leave a big mark.”

Ayerza, meanwhile, is plotting a career in scrum coaching following retirement.

He explained: “It’s not easy when you hear you have to quit but I will focus on the great memories of winning trophies with Leicester, playing in World Cups for Argentina and all the players, coaches and backroom staff I’ve been involved with.

“I’ve had an amazing career and I will remain in the game I love. I love the scrum, I feel passionate about it and that’s where my future is.

“Not enough people understand the detail of the scrum, so I would like to make a big impact there through scrum coaching and clinics. I want people to really love the scrum and respect the huge part it has to play in the game of rugby.”

NEALE HARVEY

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