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Saturday Serve

Ben Mowen aces exit strategy

Before Anthony Milford leaves Canberra, some advice from Ben Mowen might be handy.

If Ben Mowen and Anthony Milford walked side by side around Civic, reckon you could tell them apart?

They're both quitting for family reasons and have a farewell season in Canberra.

One's a towering ACT Brumbies captain who is about to walk away from his World Cup dream.

The other is a fleet-footed Canberra Raiders whizz-kid preparing to play for the Brisbane Broncos in 2015.

OK, you got me. They look nothing alike and play different sports. One's a leader who commands respect; Milford might be dodging Green Machine fan rage by the end of the year.

But here's what really separates them: the way they've dealt with their decisions to quit for family.


Wallabies and Brumbies captain Mowen got on the front foot on Thursday to announce he was quitting Australian rugby to move to France to be able to spend more time with family in a less-demanding environment.

He answered every phone call and explained why he was giving up his World Cup dream for wife Lauren and daughter Eleanor.

A few hundred metres up the road at Raiders HQ, rookie sensation Milford spoke just a couple of hours later about his homesickness and the release he requested to return to Brisbane.

But in a saga that has dragged on for months, Milford's decision still doesn't sit well with Raiders fans, while Mowen's has been accepted.

Yep, I know it's unfair to compare the two.

Mowen's 29, has a wife and child and is closer to the end of his career than the start.

Milford is 19 and needed better advice through the toughest period of his career.

But in situations such as this it is leadership that shapes perception.

Had news of Mowen's departure emerged and he refused to speak, he would have been the bloke deserting his country to chase big bucks in France.

Instead, his reputation is intact and most sport followers respect his decision.

Mowen shocked everyone when he made his decision to leave the Wallabies and Brumbies.

But he's a leader. That's why Jake White picked him to captain a new generation of Brumbies and Ewen McKenzie saw the same attributes when he made him Wallabies skipper in his seventh Test.

Mowen cited the travel schedule and spending seven of the past 12 months away from his family as the reason for his decision to leave.

The lucrative deals available from cashed-up European clubs didn't hurt either.

Mowen's more in demand now than he's been in his entire career. He will earn more in France than his Brumbies and Wallabies pay packets combined.

Would Mowen have been in the Wallabies' strongest side for the World Cup? Who knows.

But when pushing 30, with an 18-month-old daughter, the chance to play on the other side of the world without the same pressure and scrutiny is enticing for anyone.

''Ben was getting offered a really good contract with the Wallabies, this has got nothing to do with money,'' Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said.

''I've played overseas and it's a lot more family-oriented. There's a lot more family time and it's about listening and learning.

''There are different pressures overseas … you're isolated with your family and it's a good time to bond.

''[Super Rugby and Wallabies] can take its toll on your family, especially when you've got young kids. You miss a lot of firsts.''

Mowen might be the first Wallabies captain to walk away from Australian rugby a year before the World Cup, but he joins a host of Wallabies stars in France.

Grenoble might as well be the French Brumbies. Dan Palmer, Peter Kimlin, Anthony Hegarty and Henry Vanderglas are there.

Matt Giteau, Sitaleki Timani and Drew Mitchell are also soaking up the lifestyle in France.

World Cup-winning Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer said Mowen's exit should convince the Australian Rugby Union that it was time to start picking overseas-based players for national duty.

Sure, it would boost our player stocks. But it would be to the detriment of Super Rugby and domestic competitions.

A chance to play in the Wallabies' jersey is a massive lure for rising stars to play in Australia.

They know their chances of playing in a World Cup don't exist if they don't run around in Super Rugby first.

Australia can't compete with the cash on offer abroad, especially given the ARU's financial woes.

But most players don't put a price on wearing the gold jersey.

If Mowen is playing well enough to be picked in the midyear Tests and end-of-year Rugby Championship, he deserves to be in there.

If he wants to leave Australia early to start his new life in France, his wish should be granted.

Chances are you won't see Mowen and Milford sharing a coffee. But before Milford leaves Canberra, some advice from Mowen might be handy.