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Ben Mowen may say au revoir to Australian rugby early

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Georgina Robinson, Chris Dutton

Ben Mowen could leave Australia as early as August.

Ben Mowen could leave Australia as early as August. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Mowen could leave Australia as early as August after the Wallabies captain broke a deadlock with the Australian Rugby Union that has lasted months.

Mowen, hailed on Wednesday as the best captain with whom Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham had ever coached or played, has been linked to France's Montpellier and is said to have agreed to a three-year deal with the Top 14 club.

But the ARU's notoriously hard line on granting players early releases had triggered a stand-off between it and the Brumbies captain and his management.

Fairfax Media understands the deadlock was broken last week.

Mowen, who last year led the Wallabies to four wins in a row for the first time in five years, has been cleared to leave Australia, at the latest after the third Bledisloe Cup Test on October 18, but potentially as early as at the end of the Super Rugby season in August.

His departure date hinges on whether Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie will require him for Test duty this year.

''I haven't firmed in my head which way we'll go,'' McKenzie said at the launch of the 2014 Super Rugby season in Sydney.

''Ben knows his future is elsewhere. My job is to understand his situation. We have to win Test matches but by the same token we've got a finite situation [of available players for selection].

''I need to be looking at all the alternatives. Nothing has really changed for me at the moment, we'll work out [whether Mowen is needed] closer to the time.''

The deal, which the ARU is reluctant to make public because it fears such an agreement could set a precedent, recognises that Mowen's seven years of service to Australian rugby warrant an October release.

A move offshore any earlier than that would depend on the state of Australia's back-row stocks.

Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham and Waratahs No.8 Wycliff Palu are widely tipped to be Mowen's chief challengers for selection. Both players were injured last year.

Larkham, a decorated former Test five-eighth who played in teams captained by John Eales, George Gregan and Stirling Mortlock, said Mowen would leave a void that would be difficult to fill.

''There's two issues, I guess, the issue of him in the back row and who do we get who will have his experience and knowledge in the back row, and that will be a work in progress,'' Larkham said.

''The other thing is just his leadership. I haven't been involved with a better leader than Benny in my playing or coaching days - and I've been with a few good leaders.

''He's tremendous in terms of his presence and message to the team, he is always spot on. So that's going to be a bit of a void.''

The ARU has treated players on a case-by-case basis in the past but has also found the standard December 31 release useful to cling to in turbulent times.

Former Test stalwarts Berrick Barnes and Drew Mitchell were released at the end of Super Rugby last year.

But former NSW powerhouse Sitaleki Timani, who will likely welcome Mowen as a teammate in France later this year, was forced to play on throughout the Rugby Championship and the Wallabies northern spring tour when Australia's stocks of second-rowers plummeted.

Mowen, who made his Test debut last year before being handed the captaincy in the middle of a difficult first season for McKenzie, announced his decision to quit Test rugby in January.

It is understood, however, that contract negotiations had started as far back as June.

There was speculation the 29-year-old had threatened to pull the pin on the Brumbies this season if the ARU did not relax its policy on early releases.

Mowen denied these reports.

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Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
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SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
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Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
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HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Report Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19 vs STO 22 Report Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17 vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27 vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
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RED 5 vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20 vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29 vs SHA 13 Report Stats
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Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30 vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17 vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34 vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26 vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19 vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10 vs SHA 27 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13 vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16 vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
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BUL 25 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12 vs CHF 11 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
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SHA 15 vs FOR 9 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs STO 18:35WS
REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
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Round 9
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BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
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Round 10
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Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
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Round 12
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HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
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Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
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Round 14
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Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
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Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
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Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
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REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
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Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
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SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
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Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
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Round 20
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Brumbies 6 4 2 0 73 20
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Chiefs 7 5 2 0 46 24
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Waratahs 6 4 2 0 36 18
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