Wallabies and ACT Brumbies captain Ben Mowen will quit Australian rugby on Thursday, deciding to put family before his World Cup dream and move his career to Europe at the end of 2014.
In a move which will shock Australian rugby and the Brumbies, Fairfax Media can reveal Mowen, 29, says an intense travel schedule and missing time with daughter Eleanor convinced him it was time to put family first.
It's an unprecedented situation for an incumbent Test captain, effectively immediately ending his international career and ruling him out of the Wallabies' 2015 World Cup.
It comes just seven months after Mowen made his Test debut and after he was promoted to captain for the Grand Slam tour of Europe in November.
But Mowen insists he will leave Australia with no regrets and his impending move to France will allow him to spend more time with wife Lauren and 18-month-old Eleanor.
Mowen spent almost seven months away from his family in a hectic 2013, which included a Super Rugby finals campaign, a British and Irish Lions series and six-week spring tour of Europe.
Brumbies skipper Mowen will play the Super Rugby season in Canberra before moving abroad.
"It's the hardest decision of my career and I flipped 100 different ways trying to figure out which way I was going to go," Mowen said.
"But being away for so long [with the Wallabies and the Brumbies], it was a bridge too far. It's time to put my family first, that's the most important thing.
"I'm extremely thankful for the opportunities I've had, but the reality is it is time to put my family first and have quality time together."
Mowen is in the final stages of negotiating a deal in France.
He will join a sensational list of Brumbies departures, including coach Jake White and chief executive Andrew Fagan, despite making the Super Rugby final last season.
It's understood he will still captain the Brumbies this season and vowed to "play the best year of my career" to repay the ACT club.
Mowen told Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and Brumbies coaches Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher of his decision on Monday.
Mowen could play for the Wallabies again, but McKenzie's preference will be to pick players who will be available for the World Cup.
He will announce his decision at a press conference on Thursday morning.
"I am probably the first [Wallabies captain to be in this situation], but I'm also probably the first bloke to make his Test debut at 28 and retire at 29.
"It was short and sweet for a Test career. It's a hard decision. It took months, but I'm comfortable where I've come to and I'm proud of the contribution I've made."
Instead of waiting until the end of the season, Mowen made his decision now to give McKenzie, Larkham and Fisher time to plan for the future.
Mowen turned down lucrative offers from Japan last year to re-sign with the Brumbies until the end of 2015.
At the time he was only on the fringes of Wallabies selection, but wife Lauren convinced Mowen to stay in Australia to ensure he didn't regret leaving and wondering 'what if'.
A year on and Mowen says it's time to repay Lauren for her faith and spend more time with his family.
"When I got back from the spring tour I was on a high and focused on the World Cup and how we could have success," Mowen said.
"But over Christmas I realised how much Ellie has grown up this year and I missed it, I want to be there for that.
"Everytime I saw her she was a different girl. I don't want to miss out on those important moments and I can still play good, tough rugby in Europe without the travel.
"I gave the game in Australian a good 10 years and I gave it everything I had. But having family now, it makes me realise I have to put them first because for a long time they've been putting me first and it's time to repay that."
The former NSW Waratah and Queensland Red made his Test debut in June and played every international match last season.
He took over as captain for six Tests, including all five matches on the Grand Slam tour of Europe. He won five of six Tests as captain.
Mowen also led a Brumbies revival in Canberra over the past two seasons, including making the Super Rugby final last season.
Mowen hasn't ruled out a return to Australian rugby, but admitted he would likely finish his career abroad.
"I never thought I'd leave the Queensland Reds and I did. I never thought I'd leave NSW to join the Brumbies, but I did," Mowen said.
"I'd be naïve to say that I will never play for Australia again, you just don't know.
"But I'm leaving sides I absolutely love at the Brumbies and the Wallabies, and success is just around the corner.
"It's sad to be leaving, but I'm leaving something that I treasure rather than something I just want to get out of."
Mowen had been trying to negotiate a contract with McKenzie and the Australian Rugby Union, but he stopped talks when he decided to move to France.
Mowen was Australian rugby's ironman last year.
The early stages of Mowen's career were plagued by injuries and he didn't win a Wallabies call up until the British and Irish Lions series last year.
The back-rower completed a remarkable transition from almost on the rugby scrapheap to Wallabies captain, playing 2601 out of a possible 2720 minutes of Super Rugby and Test action.
He also battled a neck injury for the end of the Super Rugby campaign and the international season.
"It's the best decision for me. I hope it's really hard for me to watch the World Cup, I hope I'm there cheering the boys home," Mowen said.
"As much as I hope that happens, I leave without any regrets. The most important thing is my family and I have peace of mind."
It's understood Mowen asked new Brumbies coach Larkham if he wanted him to step aside as the team's captain.
But Mowen has been endorsed as the man to keep the captaincy reins for a third season, which starts against the Queensland Reds on February 22.
Mowen insisted his departure wouldn't destablise the club after a tumultuous off-season.
After playing the Super Rugby final in August, coach White quit his post before chief executive Andrew Fagan did the same.
Larkham will take over as head coach while Fisher is the director of rugby.
"I feel comfortable that the future is in really bright hands," Mowen said.
"I more hungry for success than I've ever been, I owe the club and Canberra everything for what they've done for me.
"I feel I have to repay a massive debt to both Canberra and the Brumbies. I desperately want to be able to leave Canberra with a championship.
"This year will be my best year, I guarantee it."
- Canberra Times
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