Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and Ella brothers reunite at Matraville High School

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When Rugby Australia began thinking about an appropriate venue for Jones’ first press conference back as the new Wallabies coach, grandiose locations like the Opera House were considered before the decision was made to return to where it began.

It was a humbler spot but a meaningful one for Jones. Having grown up nearby and attended La Perouse Public School, it was a literal homecoming and one that convinced the Ella brothers to come out in a rare appearance as a trio. Jones later taught at the Matraville High, but Mark Ella had not been back since year 12.

Gary Ella, Glen Ella, Eddie Jones and Mark Ella were re-united at Matraville High.

Gary Ella, Glen Ella, Eddie Jones and Mark Ella were re-united at Matraville High.Credit:Brook Mitchell

In a school hall where star-studded honour boards still bear his name, Jones choked up on his very first question.

“Mark, Glen, Gary and I were talking out there and we’ve got the fourth Ella, a red-headed one, Greg [Stores], who played on the wing,” Jones said. “We left here in 1977 and to come back here now is pretty special. It’s a good feeling. It’s quite emotional.”

Jones composed himself and, as he has done several times since being recruited back to the Wallabies in a shock January twist, the 63-year-old began a virtuoso 40-minute performance, laying out his vision for returning Australian rugby back to its glory days.

It was classic Jones as ringmaster; full of bold predictions, convincing bluster, a few cheeky barbs at Alan Jones and Clive Woodward and just enough intrigue to leave an already nervous Australian playing group up on the hook, legs dangling.

Glen Ella, Gary Ella and Mark Ella  in 1975.

Glen Ella, Gary Ella and Mark Ella in 1975.Credit:Kevin John Berry/Fairfax Media

But Jones didn’t need to look much further past the gates of his old school to gauge the size of the challenge ahead.

Matraville Sports High still churns out high-profile athletes, but outside of sevens star Maurice Longbottom, most are NRL players these days – like James Tamou and Cody Walker. Even chatting to schoolkids on the oval, Jones didn’t find too many rugby players.

“Rugby’s shit,” one student volunteered.

Jones knows winning back hearts and minds is a major part of his job and the only way to do that is to win footy games.

Eddie Jones talking with students of Matraville High.

Eddie Jones talking with students of Matraville High.Credit:Brook Mitchell

“You saw out there in the school, the kids, year seven kids, most of them played soccer,” Jones said.

“Because they watched the Socceroos and they were excited about the Matildas in the women’s World Cup. And there was a small number of rugby. When we were at school here, when Gary and Mark and Glen were here, it would have been the opposite.

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“All rugby kids and a few kids that played soccer. We need to create role models and we need to create heroes for the young kids.”

Indigenous role models in rugby are still too few, according to Jones. Four of the 14 Indigenous players to have played for Wallabies were in Jones’ backline in 1977, and apart from special invitations, even the Ellas don’t attend Test matches much any more.

Eddie Jones talks with media at Matraville High.

Eddie Jones talks with media at Matraville High.Credit:Getty

“Mark was saying he doesn’t want to come and watch us play until we play well. We need Mark to be at the ground. That’s good to hear. We want that pressure on ourselves. We want to perform. I’m only a small part of it,” Jones said.

Jones used the Ella-inspired Wallaby revival in the 1980s, too, as a touchstone for how he wants the Wallabies to play in his second stint.

“We want to start that period again. We’re not short of talented players here, but talent doesn’t win World Cups,” Jones said.

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“What wins World Cups and wins the hearts of people is teams who play with that same spirit the Ellas had. Being aggressive, playing with a certain panache.”

“We want to play tough so at the end of tight games, you win those tight games. That’s the traditional Australian digger spirit. We want that in the team and that’s the opportunity for the players this year. Where can we take the team? If we play like that, people will want to watch rugby again.”

Jones said the goal was to win the World Cup, and with a Wallabies team containing several World XV players, it was possible. It’s hyper-confident stuff only a pre-season allows, and no doubt deliberately, given Jones has identified belief and confidence as a missing ingredient from the Wallabies.

Chairman Hamish McLennan even got in on the act, saying he’d had feedback with almost “100 per cent approval for Eddie coming back”, which is slightly at odds with a Herald poll of over 21,000 readers, that swung back and forth before settling on 51 per cent against Eddie coming back .

After years of turmoil, Jones was asked if he felt comfortable being on centre stage with the role of as Australian rugby’s “Messiah”.

“I think I made the point today I’m not the messiah,” Jones smiled. “We’re all in this together. Sometimes you just need someone to beat the drum to get people walking faster. Maybe that’s the role at the moment.”

Watch all the action from the Six Nations with every match streaming ad-free, live and exclusive on Stan Sport. Round 1 kicks off this Sunday 5 February, with Wales v Ireland (1:05am AEDT), England v Scotland (3:35am AEDT) and Italy v France (1:50am AEDT).

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