Historical fix? New trophy for century-old rugby series

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — When England and Australia play a three-match rugby series in July, they’ll do so for a new trophy part-named after an iconic Indigenous player from Australia. More significantly, it will replace another piece of silverware that never sat well with the country’s Indigenous people.

Rugby Australia said Friday that the Ella-Mobbs Cup, named after Mark Ella and Edgar Mobbs, will replace the Cook Cup, which had been the trophy the teams played for since 1997. The Cook Cup was named after Captain James Cook due to his connection to both countries after navigating the coastline of Australia in 1770 for Britain.

But for many Indigenous communities in Australia, Cook symbolized displacement. Many Indigenous people refer to Australia Day, which recognizes the founding of Australia in Sydney Cove by Britain’s First Fleet on Jan. 26, 1788, as Invasion Day.

Mark Ella was the first Indigenous captain of the Wallabies, a flyhalf widely regarded as one of the most naturally gifted players in Australian rugby. He made history in Australia’s Grand Slam tour of 1984 by scoring a try in each of the four test matches.

At the age of 25, Ella retired from rugby having played 25 times for Australia, 10 times as captain. The Ella name is one of the most famous in Australian sport, with Mark, his twin brother Glen, and younger brother Gary having all played for the Wallabies.

The England connection on the new trophy is from Mobbs, who played in the first test match between Australia and England in 1909, scoring the hosts’ only try in a 9-3 loss to Australia at Rectory Field in London. He was a prolific try-scoring back and and was named captain of England in 1910.

“This trophy represents the historic rivalry and respect between England and Australia, recognizing two players who have contributed to both this fixture and each of our nations’ histories,” Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said.

Rugby Australia said the Ella-Mobbs Cup was specially designed to incorporate elements of both players’ families, heritages, their countries, and cultures.

Ella, a Bidjigal-Yuin man, has been inducted into the Australian and International Rugby Hall of Fame.

“It’s a big honor,” Ella said. “I thought I retired from rugby many, many years ago, but I just keep on seeming to be lingering for a bit at the moment. I think now it is time to recognize the rivalry between the RFU and Rugby Australia and what it means. Having two former players as part of the Ella-Mobbs Cup, is the way it should be.”

Glen Ella also said he was pleased with the trophy switch.

“The majority of Indigenous people wouldn’t want that (Cook’s name) on the Cup,” Glen Ella told Nine media. “I don’t have a problem, personally — it doesn’t really worry me — but to do the right thing by Aboriginal people, yeah, I understand why they’ve made that call.

“There is still a lot of angst about that among the elders, so they’re doing the right thing and making an effort to change the name to something more to do with rugby, and to not carry those connotations.”

The new trophy will will be unveiled in Perth, Western Australia, on July 1, a day ahead of the first test between the Wallabies and England. The teams will play again on July 9 in Brisbane and on July 16 in Sydney.

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