Ben Mowen sent shockwaves throughout Australian rugby six years ago when the then-Wallabies captain left his national duties behind to pursue an opportunity in France.
Mowen was named as the captain for the Grand Slam tour in November of 2013, after having made his test match debut just four months earlier.
But after donning Australian gold in 15 test matches, the back rower announced his decision to leave Australian rugby behind to sign with French club Montpellier on a three-year-deal.
At the time, Mowen was adamant that he wouldn’t end up regretting his decision to quit the captaincy and head overseas.
Reflecting on his choice all these years later, the 35-year-old opens up on just how difficult it was to leave, but why he still wouldn’t change a thing.
“Even though I knew the timing was right in my decision, it was extremely tough to give up because that’d been the only thing that I’d dreamt about since I was a little fella,” Mowen told RugbyPass.
“I had a sticker above my bed since the age of three saying ‘I want to be a Wallaby’, and that’s all I’d ever wanted to be. To achieve that goal was amazing for me and is certainly something that I cherish.”
It proved to be a big year for the loose forward, who made his Wallabies debut during the “travelling expo of rugby-mad people” that was the British and Irish Lions tour. He got his first cap playing blindside flanker in his hometown of Brisbane.
Following the 2-1 series loss to the Lions, Robbie Deans stepped down as the national coach and was replaced by Ewen McKenzie for the Rugby Championship. McKenzie’s tenure began with a run of poor performances, losing four matches out of six and slumping to a third-placed finish.
McKenzie made a headline decision for the opening match of the end of year tour, dropping James Horwill as captain and replacing him with Mowen, who had previously become Australia’s 80th captain against Argentina in Perth.
Mowen led his side to a near Grand Slam, losing to England by seven points at Twickenham before beating Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
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Reflecting on his first tour captaining the Wallabies, Mowen seemed proud of his sides efforts as they overcame the “challenge” of the change in coach to finish on a high.
“We went through some tough periods there, a couple of close, tough losses to the All Blacks and South Africa.
“To pop out the other side of that and have a really good finish to the year where we won five of our six final games and to just miss out on the Grand Slam, was pretty special.”
In January following the tour, Mowen announced his decision to put family above what he’d been dreaming about since he was three. Just a year out from the World Cup in England, Mowen left those aspirations behind to experience more of what the game could offer.
While his time playing in Australia wasn’t perfect, Mowen still has “no regrets at all” about moving on.
“I’d always had in the back of my mind that I wanted the full rugby experience, which for me entailed living overseas – not just for a year or two but for a period of time to have a base over there to travel, but to enjoy the different lifestyle and get exposed culturally off the field.
“I knew in my final year of Australian rugby that that would be that year; that I’d have to make some big decisions.
“I felt comfortable and I felt that I’d given a good portion of my dedicated life to it, and that I was ready for something else. The timing worked out really well.
“I would’ve liked to have been part of a period in Australian rugby where we won some silverware, we obviously came very close with the Brumbies losing the Super Rugby Final, and we missed the Grand Slam tour by a try against England.”
Mowen put to pen with Montpellier to prioritise time with his then two-year-old daughter Eleanor, signing a contract that kept him at the club in 2016.
While his three children, two who were born in France, are all fluent in French, Mowen laughed off his ability in comparison before describing just why his time overseas was, as he said, “perfect.”
The Highlanders have named a settled team to face off against the Crusaders on Sunday, making just one change to their starting side.https://t.co/Gqbi7X1HPZ
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“We took our two-year-old daughter Eleanor, and in the first years I hadn’t been able to spend a whole lot of time at home with her. Then to have the kids over there and pretty much spending one or two nights away a fortnight maximum; each day I brought the kids to school, picked them up from school, it was a balanced family life.
“My wife’s restaurant was in the heart of town so she’d ride her bike in, everything was centred around family and balance.
“I wouldn’t change that for the world. You’ve got to chase your dreams with absolutely everything you’ve got, and I think that’s why I felt really comfortable making that decision because I poured everything into it.”
Mowen and his family began their move back to Australia towards the backend of 2019, where he offered his services to his junior club for their finals push.
Easts Tigers ended up qualifying for the first round of finals in Queensland’s Premier Rugby competition, with the number eight helping out the side coached by former Fijian captain, Mosese Rauluni.
He added that returning to his boyhood club was a fitting end to his career, with it all being part of his plan to go full circle with his playing days.
“Right from when I started my professional career, I always wanted to finish with one good year at clubland, not just playing a game or two at the end like last year but giving an actual full season. I feel really blessed that that’s worked out the way it has and that I get to do that with my junior club.”
Mowen ran out for the Tigers in their first match of the delayed season last Saturday, named as the captain of the side.
But after taking up an opportunity with the Junior Wallabies in January, he has his sights set on a coaching career after his playing days are over.
“I’ve always felt that I’d be a better coach than a player. One of my main skill sets as a player was that I was a good leader because I was a good organiser of people.
“The last two years or two of my footy career, I was more excited about moving into that aspect of footy rather than the playing [side].”
Mowen is also working part-time with the Queensland Reds academy, while the Junior Wallabies campaign has been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
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