Glen Ella, the former Wallabies full-back and England’s assistant coach the last time they toured Australia, let out a chuckle when asked if Eddie Jones gets an extra kick out of taking on his home country. “Ah shit yeah,” was the succinct response, which sums up pretty perfectly how someone Ella has known since the age of five is approaching the coming series.
Jones is under considerably more pressure than six years ago when, aided by Ella whom he had recruited as an attack coach, he guided England to a first series win in Australia and a 3-0 whitewash to boot. Now Jones returns for a second tour of Australia as England head coach and, according to Ella, the Wallabies are still stinging – all the more so because Jones has a 100% record and eight-match winning streak with England against Australia. But while Ella senses optimism among the Wallabies, he believes Jones is in his element with his back against the wall, after another disappointing Six Nations and an embarrassing defeat by the Barbarians.
“I sit here laughing when I see some of the press that is coming out of England,” Ella, who went to school with Jones and played club rugby alongside him at Randwick, told the Guardian. “Some of it is warranted. There’s no doubt about that. But this is what he thrives on. They’ll come over here and put three good games together. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit. He thrives under that kind of pressure and that probably brings the best out of him, especially away from England, in an environment that he knows. He probably left not on the best terms in Australia but the one thing about Eddie is that he’s got a lot of belief in himself and a lot of belief in his team.”
Ella stopped short of tipping England to win the series, however, instead pointing to how Australia believe they can reverse the 3-0 scoreline from 2016. The last meeting between the two sides was a comfortable England win in November but Jones’s side have regressed while Australia have been bolstered by Quade Cooper, Marika Koroibete and Samu Kerevi, who Ella believes will be well acquainted with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell by the end of the series.
“It’s bigger than the last time they toured in 2016 because Australia think that they’ll do a 3-0 whitewash,” he said. “They’ve got the depth, the game plan, a new coach who has given them a bit more enthusiasm to do a little bit more and they’ll just be waiting for England. They just can’t wait to get hold of them.”
Ella is self-deprecating about his influence on the 2016 series but he was popular with the players with his ability to provide light relief in contrast to the more demanding Jones. Coming from one of Australia’s most legendary sporting families – his twin brother Mark has just been honoured with the renaming of the Cook Cup as the Ella-Mobbs Trophy and Gary also starred for the Wallabies – he commands respect.
Jones was recently waxing lyrical about a try he remembered Mark scoring (one of his favourite anecdotes about Glen is when, as part of his coaching staff with the Wallabies, he fell off his chair during extra time of the 2003 World Cup final against England) but the three Ellas go down as among the most natural gifted players in history.His initial thoughts of the England squad six years ago are illuminating, then, and spending just a week in their company – particularly that of George Ford and Owen Farrell – was enough to change his mind.
“Everyone needs to develop more skills but they were a lot more advanced than I expected and they had a good game plan,” Ella said. “I couldn’t believe how two young blokes – George and Owen – were taking control of how they wanted to play, how demanding they were on the pitch.”
If this series is make or break for Jones – the Rugby Football Union has backed him to the hilt but it will be a far harder position to hold in the event of a 3-0 defeat – it is equally important for his opposite number Dave Rennie, the second New Zealander to coach the Wallabies.
“It’s harder coaching a foreign team, as Eddie is finding at the moment, and to win the Australian public over they need to win the series,” Ella said. “But it’s a different Australia these days and especially with the Super Rugby sides on the up, there’s big expectation. England have beaten the Australians eight times under Eddie and so [Australia’s] got a lot to answer for.”