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The 'copy and paste' antics of Gary Ella in failed Leinster spell

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

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A lot of water flowed under the bridge in Dublin before Leinster eventually became the European powerhouse they are now revered as and the mishap 2003/04 season they spent with Gary Ella in charge has now been damningly recalled by Willie Anderson. The former Ireland skipper has written his autobiography Crossing The Line, which is being published this month by Reach. 


In a thoroughly entertaining run through the life and times of the 66-year-old, who was capped on 27 occasions by his country, there are plenty of chapters devoted to a varied coaching career that included stints with Dungannon, London Irish, Leinster, Scotland and his native Ulster.  

It was Matt Williams who originally got Anderson in the door at Leinster as his assistant but the Australian’s decision to leave to take up the Scotland job in 2003 left Leinster recruiting in the southern hemisphere for a replacement head coach.

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The Michael and Tom Lynagh father and son interview
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They plumped for Ella, the six-cap Wallabies midfielder, but his time in charge was short-lived, Leinster calling it quits after just a single frustrating season. Forwards coach Anderson twigged early on that this was how it would ultimately work out for the Australian following an incident that occurred in the Irish province’s settling-in period with their new boss.

In the book written in conjunction with Brendan Fanning, Anderson recalled: “I don’t think Gary’s coaching career was in the same ballpark as his playing one. He inherited a wounded Leinster squad with a pretty obvious division in it. There were the stars who were never going to get dropped, and the bag holders who got to stand there and admire them. 

“Gary is a grand guy but he needed to grab the bull by the horns, take the opportunity offered by a season with maybe over 30 games in it, and drive us on. Early in the journey, he asked Brett (Igoe, another assistant coach) if we had a computer. Brett wasn’t sure if he was taking the pish. Then Gary gave him a floppy disk that contained the New South Wales Waratahs playbook. 


“‘Mate, can you go through that and everywhere you find a reference to New South Wales or the Waratahs can you change it to Leinster?’ Brett did that. Then he had to park himself by the photocopier and run off maybe 35 copies – each the size of a small telephone book – and distribute them to the squad. 

“I watched this unfold and asked myself why Leinster had given the job to Gary Ella instead of me. Yes, I wasn’t the finished article – I had issues that needed constant work – but I was passionate about the job and bringing something to it. I understood what was meant by ‘The Leinster Way’ and wanted to add to it. I didn’t want to copy and paste the Waratah way on Leinster.

“The season was a long, slow slide backwards. I followed the same routine as the previous season but with less enthusiasm. Had I been more invested I probably would have shouted sooner when it was clear Gary was drifting. 

“The untouchable players didn’t take to him and when that happens there needs to be a confrontation to deal with it. Gary wasn’t cut out for that. And it wasn’t my job to intervene. I was the assistant for a job I clearly was never going to get, so I focused on what was in my job spec.”


Leinster replaced Ella with Declan Kidney for the following 2004/05 season while Anderson headed to Scotland to rekindle his relationship with Williams by becoming assistant coach of the national team. 


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