Triple Grand Slam Winning Defence Coach David Ellis signs with Sarlat Rugby

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Sarlat Rugby’s ambitious project has attracted the attention of a truly noteworthy coach. Defence coach to numerous French and UK teams, and former third row, David Ellis has coached at every level of rugby, including 3 grand slam wins with the XV de France. David Ellis will join Sarlat Rugby, alongside Stephane Labrousse, to help the team realize their potential and hopefully climb to Federale 1!

Less than a year ago, David Ellis was scrolling through the pages of Midi Olympique for all the latest rugby news from the country he had helped reach three grand slams. An article caught his eye. It introduced Sarlat Rugby, a small-town club trying to transform itself and put together a team to rise through the divisions. Having already helped coach both professional and amateur clubs to triumph, David Ellis saw an opportunity to do what he loves for a team that could go far. 

Fast forward to this week, when David Ellis officially attended his first Sarat Rugby training session. He will be returning in August for the first friendly games of the season to see the team in action, for he is joining the coaching team as Defence Head Coach.

But who is David Ellis, this esteemed coach who will be shoring up Sarlat Rugby’s defence? Where does he come from and why does he believe so strongly in the transformative power of rugby? We sat down with him this week to find out. 

David Ellis’s Rugby Journey from Struggling Player to Top Tier Coach

While David Ellis has coached at the highest levels of international rugby his background is a humble testament to the power of sport to change lives. Born in Yorkshire in the late 1950s to a family tied as closely to the local coal mines as rugby (his great, great, great uncle has been given credit for inventing the sport!). David followed in both these footsteps, with his first semi-pro rugby contract taking him into the coal mines every morning.

When the coal industry went on strike against Thatcher’s reforms in 1984, David Ellis lost everything. Rugby proved to be the lifeline he and his young family needed, he was offered a ticket to play loose forward (back row) all the way across the world in Australia. He said yes. A new beginning did not mean an easy one, but from this first experience playing professionally internationally was born a blossoming career in Rugby League (13 players). 

After playing hundreds of games across the world for teams including Townsville, Brisbane, Toowoomba, and Corbeil XIII here in France, he made the natural transition to coaching in the 1990s. He aimed to share the expertise and insights he had acquired to help teams with one crucial aspect of the game: defence. His first coaching position was with Villeneuve sur Lot, still in Rugby League, in 1995. Not only were they Champion de France in 1996, but finalists in both of the subsequent years. 

With one trophy under his belt, David Ellis set out to climb even higher!

As Defence Coach, David Ellis Secures Three XV de France Grand Slams

After three amazing seasons coaching Rugby League, David Ellis was drawn into the world of the even more popular (in France) Rugby Union by notable coach and mentor Jacques Fouroux. Ellis’s talent was obvious, and he was snapped up first by the Racing 92 (at the time Racing Club de France) in 1998 for two seasons, before completing two more with another team of great renown today, Bordeaux Begles. 

The big break came in 2000 however, when Bernard Laporte, at the recommendation of Jacques Fouroux, gave David Ellis a shot at helping him coach the XV de France. While Ellis would not be paid (only expenses covered) he leapt at the chance to help build France’s international team for the World Cup and Six Nations. He would work with them for the next 11 seasons, securing win after win, including 3 Grand Slam’s (undefeated seasons) in 2002, 2004, and 2010. With so many titles under his belt, David Ellis knew that achievement and performance were no longer in question, and he could settle down and focus on really building up promising projects.

David Ellis Trained many great XV de France players including scrum-half Jean Baptiste Elissalde
For over a decade, David Ellis helped the XV de France secure win after win (Coventrytelegraph)

After all, during these 11 seasons with the XV de France, David Ellis had not stopped coaching. He continued to excel on both sides of the channel with Gloucester RFC for the first five years then Castres Olympique from 2005 to 2007, CA Brive from 2007 to 2009, and the London Irish from 2009 to 2011. 

This is not a man to rest on his laurels, so when he parted ways with the XV de France, he continued both professional and international coaching. 

A Defence Coach With His Eye on More Than Just the Prize

He didn’t pick just any teams though, but chose with care those with a drive to excel, push their limits and unlock their potential. Between 2012 to 2017 he would work with both US Bergerac and the LOU of Lyon. He helped Bergerac reclaim their spot in Federale 1 in 2014 (and was disappointed to see them lose it the next year for administrative reasons) and helped Lyon nail their climb from Pro D2 to the coveted Top 14. 

Meanwhile, he also coached, internationally, the Tongan rugby team. Leading to perhaps the most epic of David Ellis’s stories, which is a testament to his determination to see each project through. In 2014, as Bergerac was climbing, he promised to attend their Federale 3 Final despite traveling internationally with the Tongan team. No sooner had the Tongans won against the USA in Los Angeles, than he hopped on a series of planes all the way to Limoges, rented a car, and drove to arrive just in time to motivate Bergerac to take home the trophy. He partied just as hard as the players in Bergerac before having to leave early in the morning for Japan for a game with Tonga… which they won!

With that kind of faith in his teams, and commitment to their projects, is it any wonder players like Hemani Paea (who played with him in LOU and Tonga) are delighted by his recruitment to Sarlat Rugby?

But Sarlat is not the first smaller town to benefit from David Ellis’s experience. Just two seasons ago, Kenilworth RFC had the fortune to sign him as Head Coach after outlining their project to climb following a strong season. And climb they did. Not only did they secure the league promotion, but conquered their division and won three more accolades, all while going undefeated at home for over two years. 

That is the kind of potential David immediately saw in the Sarlat Rugby project; and those results, are the kind he intends to deliver for us. 

David Ellis Reinforces Sarlat Rugby as Defence Head Coach

David Ellis took note of the Sarlat Rugby project when he first read about the ambitions of the club’s new president Dom Einhorn, in an article in the Midi-Olympique. This was exactly the kind of bold, yet well-planned and carefully executed project that David Ellis had sought out over the last decade. So he reached out to Dom, and now he has arrived in Sarlat, ready to create an iron-strong yet swift and flexible defence. 

He already knows some of the players he will be able to count on, like Ikapote Fono or Hemani Paea, from previous teams. In fact, he and Paea both shared accolades after the 2016 season with LOU for Best Coaching Staff and Best Player respectively. He is also familiar with the region, its culture, and, of course, its rugby, after his time with Bergerac. While he will be making frequent trips to his native England and back through the Bergerac Airport, he is already determined to return to see Sarlat Rugby in action during the first friendly game on the 14th of August.

David Ellis and Dom Einhorn at the Sarlat Rugby pitch at the Chistian Goumondie stadium
Sarlat Rugby’s president, Dom Einhorn, welcomes David Ellis

As for his coaching style? Well, we did get a few pointers. First of all, what he values most in players is not any given physical trait, but mental ones. Determination, passion, commitment, and discipline make all the difference on the pitch. We thought we might also catch him off guard with an old classic: 

Q: It is often said, the best form of Defence is a good offense. As a Defence coach, do you agree?

A: No. In rugby, the best form of offense is a good Defence. Because you give no ground, put yourself in a great position to attack, and create spaces and opportunities to unleash that French flair! 

If his work, and results, from the past two decades of coaching, are anything to go on, he might just be on to something! We cannot wait to see his strategies and work with the players bear fruit this exciting season, and many more to come.

Welcome to Sarlat Rugby David Ellis!

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