On the eve of England’s three-test tour of Australia, Rugby Australia and the RFU have agreed to retire the 25-year-old crystal trophy named after Captain James Cook.
In its place will be a new design they say better represents the long rugby tradition between the two nations.
After unanimous support from the RA board, the Ella-Mobbs trophy will be unveiled on the Friday before the first test in Perth, in time for NAIDOC week, which kicks off on July 4 and culminates in a potential first outing for the Wallabies’ Indigenous jersey in the second test in Brisbane.
Mark Ella, a 25-cap Wallaby regarded as one of the best five-eighths to wear the gold jersey, is understood to be honoured to share the billing with Edgar Mobbs, a pre-war England wing who formed the Sportsman’s Battalion and was gunned down in France in 1917.
Cook has become a divisive figure in recent years, with a statue of the pioneering British sailor in Melbourne vandalised on Australia Day this year. A statue in Cairns that has long caused angst for the region’s first Australians was removed last month by the new owners of the land on which it stood.
The names of Ella and Mobbs will represent a new era in the rugby rivalry between the countries, who first played against each other in 1909 in England.
That test was a 9-3 win for the Wallabies at Rectory Field in Blackheath, London, on a mid-winter day, with Mobbs scoring England’s only try.
The subsequent 113 years have yielded a near-even split of 26-25 in England’s favour, but results have gone heavily England’s way lately, with former Randwick hooker Eddie Jones kicking off an unbeaten eight-match streak in 2016.
Dave Rennie’s Wallabies are intent on ending that run when the series kicks off in Perth on July 2. The new trophy will give the two sides something new to play for after the Cook Cup, which was created by Royal Doulton to mark the start of the professional era in the late 1990s.
Ella’s exploits for Australia are well known. A Randwick team-mate of Jones’, Ella played 26 tests between 1980 and 1984 and was only the second Indigenous Australian to captain his country after Arthur Beetson took charge of the national rugby league team.
Possessed of a work rate that would put him first on Rennie’s team sheet, Ella was widely admired for his flat attack, looping support runs and an ability to change pace and direction on a dime. He starred in Australia’s 1984 grand slam tour of the UK, scoring a try in each test. He played England twice in his career for a 1-1 win-loss record.
Mobbs was an inspirational figure whose wartime efforts eclipsed his considerable rugby exploits. Rejected for a commission with the British Army because of his age (32), the seven-test wing formed the Sportsman’s Battalion, leading 264 men from the 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, to three separate battles in France.
Only 85 men from the Battalion survived, and Mobbs was not one of them. Wounded three times in battle, he was fatally shot in the Third Battle of Ypres, at Passchendaele in 1917, and died on the battlefield. His body was never recovered.