From The Vaults

12 July 2022
25 years of the Cook Cup

Today marks 25 years since the inaugural Cook Cup match was played. The trophy, contested by England and Australia, has recently been retired to make way for the new Ella-Mobbs Cup.

The Cook Cup was introduced in 1997, when Australia and England agreed to play each other bi-annually for a decade, although with World Cup years and Lions tours they didn't always play this often. The first Cook Cup match was held in July 1997 at Sydney Football Stadium - a 25-6 victory for Australia. It was last awarded to England, who had a nine-match winning streak between 2013 and 2021.

The trophy was designed by Royal Doulton, the famous English ceramics manufacturer established in 1815. It is made in three parts - a wooden base with a crystal cut glass cup and lid. Around the base, silver plaques are inscribed with the winning teams. The cup is engraved with the Australian wallaby and the England rose. Standing at nearly three foot tall - 86cm/34in - and being very heavy (contained in its travel case, it weighs 44.5kg/7st), the cup is as unwieldy as it is fragile. The museum team have nightmares whenever it needs to be moved!

To highlight the shared history of the two countries, the cup was named after the English explorer and cartographer, Captain James Cook (1728-1779), who made the first-recorded European contact with the eastern coast of Australia in 1770. During his voyages around the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, Cook charted coastlines not previously included on European maps, drastically changing Western understanding of world geography. In recent years, there has been much debate about Cook's legacy and the ill-treatment of the Indigenous peoples he encountered on his voyages. Earlier this year it was decided that the cup bearing his name would be retired and replaced with a new trophy which better represents the two countries.

The new trophy - revealed ahead of the 2022 Test series - has been named the Ella-Mobbs Cup, after Mark Ella (b.1959) and Edgar Mobbs (1882-1917). Australian fly-half Mark Ella won 25 caps between 1980 and 1984. The first Indigenous Australian to captain the national rugby union team, he led the side on ten occasions. Edgar Mobbs made his England debut against Australia in 1909 during their first tour of Britain. He played seven matches for England, including one as captain. Initially told he was too old to enlist for service in the First World War, Mobbs returned to the recruitment office having raised his own corps of 264 men and was accepted. He was killed at Passchendaele in 1917, his resting place unknown.

The trophy has been designed by Ella's niece, Natalie Bateman, and it incorporates materials and symbols which allude to both players. The mullet fish etched into the cup is symbolic for Ella, whose father was a net fisherman, and the England rose is based on Mobbs' jersey badge.

see the cook cup

The old Cook Cup is now on display in our International Tours gallery, its retirement a sign of changing attitudes and commitment to inclusivity in rugby.