Australia’s Ben Mowen finally arrives at the test party
Debut was tarnished by defeat but it was still the most memorable day of his career in front of his family and friends
Ben Mowen of the Wallabies calls out to team mates during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British & Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Ben Mowen is one of the series’ undoubted feel good stories. A la Donnacha Ryan, Mike McCarthy and others, he came to the Test party relatively late in his career, having had to trawl the Australian franchises and resist the lure of a dash for cash in French or Japanese rugby before realising his dream.
In a country where backrowers fall off trees, there was always a posse ahead of him, and because of that he was probably viewed as relatively expendable. Never having had a financial top-up from the ARU for any involvement with the Wallabies, nor would his career have been especially remunerative, but he resolved to stay and do whatever he could to play for his country.
He had seemed destined to play for the Wallabies in his under-age days, given he played for the Australian Schoolboys, Under-21s and Sevens, but it took him until last Saturday to finally emulate his sisters Justine and Jordan, who are ex-Australian volleyball internationals.
However, injuries from the ages of 20 to 24 stunted his progress, and having been let go by his home-town team the Queensland Reds after one year in 2006, he resurfaced in 2008 with the Waratahs.
Told to bulk up, before the 2011 Super Rugby season he almost reinvented his body by increasing his weight from 102 kilograms to 110kg in the off-season, while retaining his speed thanks to working at the Waratahs with former sprinter Matt Shirvington.
On verge of move
Even then, the Waratahs released him, and Mowen was on the verge of a move to Japan for three times the salary when Jake White offered him the chance to join the Brumbies and become their captain as part of his planned revolution.
Despite edging his way into a Wallabies training camp last year for their June Tests, Mowen was informed by Robbie Deans that he needed to add more impact at the tackle area and be better on the ball.
Mowen duly went away and redefined his game some more. He worked diligently to add 4kg and like so many Munster players who were on Laurie Fisher’s watch, such as Tommy O’Donnell, credits the Brumbies forwards coach for increasing his leg power in the carry and improving his breakdown work.
A spat with his good buddy, James Horwill, in a Reds-Brumbies game earlier in the year showed another more aggressive side to his game, further evidenced in the way he shut down Mike Phillips last Saturday on his Test debut. As the Wallabies’ lineout caller as well, along with Horwill he was arguably one of their two best forwards. Mowen is, at 28, at last a Wallaby.
“Yeah mate, it feels amazing. I don’t feel too different at the moment. I try not to throughout a year, give myself too much reflection time, because you’ve just got to tick through so much process, week-in, week-out to make sure that if you’ve got a responsibility for a game you’re going out to execute it.
“So I’m sure later in the year I’ll sit back on a beach having a beer mate, I’ll look back and reflect, and feel really proud. But at this stage we’ve just got to have a huge result on Saturday night. That’s all that matters.”
His day was tarnished by a defeat, but it was still the most memorable day of his career in front of his family and friends and, fittingly, in his native city.
Speaking yesterday morning, one highlight stands out. “Aw mate, just singing the anthem. That was amazing.”
The 102-times capped ex-Wallabies outhalf Stephen Larkham, an assistant coach at the Brumbies, attributes much of the Brumbies rise from 13th place two years ago to probable winners of the Australian conference to Mowen’s leadership.
“He’s a great motivator, leads by example, speaks well, understands the game plan and works really hard off the field in doing his homework.”
And if at first you don’t succeed, and all that.