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My Life in Rugby: Dave Ellis – Defence coach with France, London Irish, Gloucester

 Dave EllisI’ve since been told that the Six Nations game where Serge Betsen hounded Jonny Wilkinson in 2002 was one of the turning points in England winning the World Cup – at the time it was the game that brought me into the spotlight.

I’d been France defence coach for a couple of years under Bernard Laporte, but it was in that game when we spotted a weakness in the England team that people really sat up and took notice.

Working with Mike Catt a few years later, he told me how that match changed their game plan and made them realise that Jonny could be isolated, and it’s no coincidence Catt always came into the team to face France.

I’d started working with the national team a couple of years earlier when Bernard took over and in the end I spent eight years working with him, and another four under Marc Lièvremont.

Jacques Fouroux had introduced me to Union, I’d played League in England, Australia and France, and then he got me involved with Racing.

He was immensely knowledgeable and I owe a lot to him, and it was also on his recommendation that Bernard gave me a chance.

The first season I was told I would only be paid expenses, but that if I backed myself, I’d get a proper salary the next year. Of course I said yes and stayed involved until 2011.

There are a lot of games that stand out, the Grand Slam in 2004, and the two Championships in 2006 and 2007, but the World Cup quarter-final that same year against New Zealand was special.

We’d employed one tactic in the first half which didn’t really work so in the second we changed it and started double tackling everyone. The aim was to force New Zealand to throw more people into the breakdown.

It upset their attacking game and we managed to knock them out. The following week we stuck with the same team – going against what we had done all tournament – and the lads were too tired against England.

In that New Zealand game I was also able to use some of the things I’d picked up when working with them in 2005.

Clive Woodward had said he didn’t think I was the right man for the Lions that year, so Graham Henry asked if I wanted to help the All Blacks instead. It was only for a month but it was a great experience.

Going from working for Bernard to Marc was quite a change, he was trying to go away from the defensive mindset.

He was probably a little too honest for his own good, but he is a great man and a very good coach.

After I finished with France in 2011 I thought the chance might come to work with England, and I spoke to Stuart Lancaster a couple of times.

It’s disappointing it didn’t happen especially with a home World Cup coming up, in the same way that I’d love to have been involved with the Lions at some point.

Instead I’m currently working at Lyon but also started helping Tonga.  There’s a match against France in November which I’ve already highlighted on the calendar.

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