The Cook Cup, a 25-year-old trophy contested by Australia and England, will be renamed after the two countries’ rugby unions agreed to drop the reference to the British explorer before the upcoming Test series.
A new trophy is set to be unveiled in the build-up to the first Test in Perth on 2 July, and will be named the Ella-Mobbs Trophy after Indigenous Australian and Wallabies great Mark Ella and the former England winger Edgar Mobbs, who died while serving his country in the first world war.
Rugby Australia is understood to have taken the lead in the initiative with its board unanimously agreeing to the change, and the Rugby Football Union subsequently giving their support to the idea.
The new Indigenous design will be made public in time for Naidoc week, which starts on 4 July. The Wallabies could wear their new Indigenous jersey in the second Test in Brisbane on 9 July, with the final Test of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground to be played the following Saturday.
Ella, one of the most accomplished fly-halves the Australian game has seen, represented his country 25 times, 10 as captain. He made his Test debut in 1980 and two years later became just the second Indigenous man to captain any Australian national team, after Arthur Beetson was captain of the Kangaroos in a rugby league Test in 1973.
His twin Glen and other brother Gary also played for the Wallabies and the chair of the RA board, Hamish McLennan, told Guardian Australia it was fitting to have the Ella name adorn the new trophy.
“Mark was a genius player, our first Indigenous captain, and the Ella brothers during their time were such a big part of our game and we want to celebrate that,” he said.
Glen Ella backed the move and said it was a step in the right direction to encourage more Indigenous youth to take up the game.
“The majority of Indigenous people wouldn’t want that [Cook’s name] on the cup,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “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. I just think there is a lot more they could do to entice Aboriginal kids to play rugby.”
James Cook, the captain of the first western ship to reach the east coast of Australia in 1770, has become a decisive figure in recent times and there have been protests over Australia’s colonial past, with some monuments bearing his name vandalised.
The Cook Cup, made of crystal and designed by Royal Doulton, was introduced in 1997 and awarded to the winner of series between the fierce rivals. It is currently held by England.
“With such a vast history between them, Rugby Australia and the Rugby Football Union made the decision that the trophy should better represent the proud rugby history of both nations,” an RFU spokesperson said.