Rugby: The Wallabies Captaincy Conundrum

In the aftermath of the departure of Ben Mowen from Australian rugby (let’s face it the quicker the ARU jettison him from anything to do with the Wallabies the better), a massive question that remains is that of who will be the captain of the Wallabies come the first test of 2014 on 7 June against France.

Looking into the crystal ball for a moment, that team that runs out onto Lang Park on 7 June could well include three former captains in its ranks in the form of James Horwill, Will Genia and David Pocock.  One suspects that the leader of the team out onto the park on that day will be one of those three men.

Before anointing one of those men as captain of the Wallabies it is important though to closely consider the claims of Quade Cooper to the highest office in Australian rugby.  When Ewan McKenzie named Cooper as the team’s vice captain during the European tour there were many a curled eyebrow and social media was replete with negativity from those who sit firmly in the “anti-Cooper camp”.  Coach McKenzie though has been overt in his praise for Cooper, particularly regarding his ability to play out a game plan and it has been broadly reported that those in power at the ARU consider him a full time captain of the future.

An important word in that last sentence is the future.  Quade Cooper has only been the vice captain of the Wallabies for a handful of test matches and only made his captaincy debut for Queensland in a tour match against the British and Irish Lions this last winter.  It can not be forgotten that it is not twelve months since Cooper was firmly on the outer with the Wallabies set up and it is not twenty-four months since he was describing the culture of the team as “toxic”.  There is another consideration here: how the appointment of Cooper would likely play out with the fans.  He is a dividing figure among Wallabies fans and now, possible more than even, a captain who will unite all fans behind the team is what is required.

I would keep Cooper as the vice captain behind whoever is tapped on the shoulder to take on the Wallabies captaincy.

That leads us back to the choice of the original three as captain: who of Genia, Horwill or Pocock should run out at the front of team on 7 June? Each of Genia, Horwill or Pocock have strong competing claims to be returned to their former role as captain of the team.

James Horwill is the long time captain of Queensland and has lead that team through a period of resurgence under the stewardship of Ewen McKenzie.  It must be pointed out that Horwill has spent a lot of time out of the team due to injury and much of the time during which Queensland’s resurgence has taken place has been whilst he has been sitting on the pine.  On the positive side of things McKenzie and Horwill obviously work very well together.

Will Genia is the long time vice captain of Queensland and has taken on the role of captain on each occasion at which James Horwill has been out of action with injury.  He has also taken on the same role at the Wallabies level when Horwill has been injured in the past.  He is the team’s scrum half and some of Australia’s greatest captains have been scrum halves in the past.  A large question mark though hangs over Genia and that is what his form will be like come 7 June: his position as the permanent number 9 in the team has been under threat from others through the Super ranks (Nic White being the main candidate).

David Pocock has been out for a long time with injury and is enjoying, apparently, his first full pre-season of training since 2007.  There is a significant road block in the path of his immediate return to the team in the form of Michael Hooper who has taken the number 7 jersey in Pocock’s absence and (despite the valid claims of Liam Gill) made it is his own.  A big pointer to whether Pocock is in the frame to be Wallabies captain may well be whether he is names as the Brumbies captain for the 2014 Super Rugby campaign.  He is a leader of men and, pre-injury, was a clear second in the race for the best player in the world behind some bloke called McCaw.

Taking each of these claims into consideration, who comes out on top? I think one of the principal things to consider is which of these players is going to play the most minutes.  If he is in the team that person seems to most likely to be Genia but there is a question mark, for mine, as to whether he will be in the team. Horwill is injury prone and could only be considered if he played every game of the Super 15 before the first team.  Similarly Pocock could only be considered if his return from injury saw him return to his old form and he played every game of Super 15.

All of that leaves me with no clear answer other than to say that the Wallabies captain will come from one of those three players AND that their form in Super 15 rugby will be determinative of who ultimately named captain. I, for one, will be watching with keen interest each players’ performances.


Mowen departs: Where to now for the ARU?

Ben Mowen is heading to France to ply his trade in 2015. He will be playing out his 2014 contract with the ACT Brumbies / Wallabies.  The announcement of the contract for 2015 has been made, ostensibly, to allow both teams time to plan for the departure of Mowen from the scene.


The fact is that Mowen is the incumbent captain of both the Brumbies and the Wallabies, having been elevated to the captaincy in favour of James Horwill on the summer tour to Europe.  He is the incumbent Number 8 in both teams. Mowen’s defection, he has been reported as saying, on family grounds (note that it was reported broadly in October 2013 that there were monetary factors also in play) raises a number of issues for the ARU which, with the Super 15 season so close, must be answered swiftly.


The principal issue for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies must be whether Mowen continues to be selected, both as captain and in those respective teams in general.  For the Brumbies the answer is simple: it is a professional rugby franchise rather than a representative one and thus his ongoing selection in both role raises no issues at all.  The position for the Wallabies and the ARU is far more vexed. In my opinion it can not be in the interests of the Wallabies to select a player for whom the allure of being the captain of his country or playing at a World Cup is not strong enough to keep him playing for said country.  I applaud Mowen’s devotion to his family (if one is to believe the reason given) but taking this position leaves a serious question of his commitment to his country.


The World Cup is being held in 2015 and the test matches played by Australia in 2014 will be an important guide to the make up of the Wallabies team that takes the field in that tournament.  That being the case, Mowen simply can not be selected for Australia this year can he?


The other major issue that the defection of Mowen raises is who will be the next captain of Australia? James Horwill seems to be on the outer as captain and the return of David Pocock to the line up hinges on his return from a lengthy rehabilitation from a serious knee injury.  In Europe, Quade Cooper was elevated to the vice captaincy in the aftermath of Horwill’s demotion.  It should also not be forgotten that Will Genia has manfully taken on the position in Queensland during Horwill’s all to regular injury lay offs.  I am not certain who the ARU will pick for this position as they all have competing claims.  It will be vital though that the ARU pick a captain this year that they, injury and form permitting, intend to be the captain at the 2015 World Cup.  The last thing the Wallabies need after all is more instability.


The departure of Ben Mowen again opens the door to a discussion around the recompense of professional rugby players in this country (let’s be honest here: money is an underlying factor no matter the reasons posited by the man himself) albeit I remain steadfastly of the view that the money presently being paid ought be more than enough for the privilege of wearing a gold jersey.

Since when was $196,000 not enough to play for your country?

In the world of rugby today the big news, aside from the ongoing hand wringing that surrounds the Wallabies in general at the moment, was the prospect of Ben Mowen leaving these shores to ply his trade in Europe because of a pay dispute with the ARU.

The story is that he has signed with the Brumbies through 2015 but that that contract has been predicated upon Mowen receiving an ARU top up. The ARU, having spent the GDP of a small country to keep I Folau among others in Wallaby gold, does not have the cash to pay such a top up.

I was sympathetic to the case of Mowen, after all he is the current incumbent for the captaincy of the country and has improved markedly over the last year to secure a spot in the Wallabies line up. Then I read that each Wallabies player earns $14,000 per game. Further, assuming Mowen is selected for all 14 games the Wallabies play this season, he will earn $196,000 on top of his contract with the Wallabies. AND any top up payment will further increase the sum to be paid to Mowen for the honour to represent his country.

Are you kidding me? $14,000 per game is not enough? I know it is a professional game now but can anyone put their hand on their heart and say that the price of representing ones country should be one cent more than the exorbitant amount already paid?

Much like my response to rugby league players breaking contracts to enhance their value on the market, I have a simple response to the grab for cash currently being undertaken by a player seen as a future captain: go and play in Europe! Because frankly: if $196,000 is not enough to keep you in Wallaby gold then I have to question you commitment to that jersey.

Mowen Factor: in search of a better performance and a win

Much has been made during the week in rugby circles of the dropping of Will Genia and the elevation of Ben Mowan to the captaincy of the Australian team.


First things first: Genia had to be dropped. He has been in ordinary form since (indeed during) the Lions tour and only the frailty of Australia's fly halfs and forwards has saved him from scrutiny he otherwise would have faced. Nic White has earned his chance.


Onto Mowen: it has been obvious to all keen watchers of Super Rugby that Ben Mowen was a captain of the Wallabies of the future. I just don't think anyone expected his elevation to come so soon. Having seen his exemplary work at the helm of the Brumbies and noting that he is leading a team replete with his Brumbies team mates, I have no doubt he will do a fine job.


As a Wallabies fan I want to see a win tonight. It is that simple. Equally, I remember the sour feeling left with me having watched the Wallabies scrape to a win against the Pumas on the Gold Coast last year so the other thing I want to see from the Wallabies is a vastly improved performance as well. It is not good enough, in my unlearned opinion, for the Wallabies to scrape over the line here because that will still be considered a loss in some quarters. So, for me, the win is important but equally as important is the performance.


A final word: I wrote earlier in the week about giving Ewen McKenzie a break from the rhetoric and my view in that has not changed. Indeed, I have probably moved even further along the spectrum to the view that I am comfortable with Australia coming third in the Rugby Championship because this is an obvious rebuilding phase in the post Deans era. South Africa and New Zealand are ahead of us at the moment and that, as hard as it is to say, is ok because I have faith that McKenzie can turn us around given time.


With one eye on tonight and one on the future: I can not wait for kick off and seeing Ben Mowen lead Australia into battle.