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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Greg Growden writes ...
No wonder players look longingly at France
Greg Growden
January 10, 2014
Ben Mowen will leave Australia after the Super Rugby season

Wallabies Captaincy Candidates

  • Quade Cooper
  • Position: Fly-half
  • Super team: Queensland Reds
  • Age: 25
  • Tests: 50
  • Test debut: 2008
  • The mercurial five-eighth has shown more maturity since recalled to the side by Ewen McKenzie and appointed vice-captain after being on the outer with previous coach Robbie Deans over his "toxic" comment regarding the atmosphere among the Wallabies in late 2012.
  • Will Genia
  • Position: Scrum-half
  • Super team: Queensland Reds
  • Age: 25
  • Tests: 55
  • Test debut: 2009
  • He has captained Queensland and Australia, and is recognised as one of the world's great half-backs. He has a huge influence on the Wallabies' backline.
  • Scott Higginbotham
  • Position: Back-row
  • Super team: Rebels
  • Age: 27
  • Tests: 23
  • Test debut: 2010
  • Captained Melbourne Rebels in place of the injured Gareth Delve on several occasions in 2013, and the hard-running back-row has been appointed full-time captain for the coming year.
  • James Horwill
  • Position: Lock
  • Super team: Queensland Reds
  • Age: 28
  • Tests: 48
  • Test debut: 2007
  • Long-standing skipper of the Reds, whom he led to the 2011 Super Rugby title, before replacing Rocky Elsom as Wallabies skipper for Rugby World Cup 2011. He lost the job on the 2013 end-of-year tour.
  • David Pocock
  • Position: Openside flanker
  • Super team : Brumbies
  • Age: 25
  • Tests: 46
  • Test debut: 2008
  • He has captaincy experience with both Western Force and Australia, and has gained widespread acclaim for championing causes off the field as well as for his great work on the pitch.

Ben Mowen's decision to leave Australian rugby for France tosses up many questions.

Such as: Why exactly would he want to say farewell to the Test captaincy?

Who will be the Wallabies' skipper?

Isn't it time the authorities look at the representative calendar, and stop loading it with endless Tests for which the key priority is to make money?

Also isn't it time player welfare is addressed seriously?

Mowen's official reason for opting to quit Australian rugby after this year's Super Rugby season is that he wants to spend more time with his young family. Fair enough, too, considering the life of a professional rugby player these days is an endless repetition of picking up your bags from airport carousels all over the world. It is certainly not glamorous. It is often horrible.

But surely there must be more.

Mowen denies his pay dispute with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), which recently saw him refused a contract top-up, was a factor in his decision. Nonetheless, it must be galling for a national skipper not to get preferential treatment from the national union; it is hardly an endorsement.

It is also known that Mowen's time as Wallabies captain wasn't all about smelling the roses.

He struggled to gain the respect of numerous Wallabies players when he took over the captaincy from James Horwill. Mowen's leadership skills were questioned by others in the Wallabies group, while some pondered whether he was actually worthy of a Test spot.

For someone to be a proper international leader, he must be admired by his peers for his skills and ability to lead a team out of trouble. Mowen did not enjoy such admiration, and the recent Wallabies tour of Europe, which involved off-field dramas, did not improve his standing within the team.

So who should captain the Wallabies?

One should not underestimate the possibility of Horwill regaining the Test captaincy, but I would prefer either David Pocock or Will Genia.

Some will push for Quade Cooper, who is the natural successor having been Mowen's deputy on the European tour. But we should leave Cooper to what he does best: doing wild and crazy acts at No.10; captaincy would be too much of a burden for the unpredictable playmaker.

Pocock will have a tough time regaining the No.7 Test jersey, after Michael Hooper's outstanding 2013 season. But if there is anyone who understands a challenge and is willing to take it on, that person is Pocock. And if he does again show he is Australia's premier openside flanker, he is the man to lead the Wallabies to Rugby World Cup 2015. Pocock is, first and foremost, a leader. He commands respect. He has an aura. Articulate, intelligent, always inquisitive, Pocock is comfortable in any environment. Most importantly, he is a rounded individual - an important attribute if you want to properly lead your country.

If Pocock fails to topple Hooper, Genia is a very good alternative.

More importantly, Australian rugby officials should have a good hard look at their international and domestic calendar if they want to hold onto to their supposed best talent. At the moment, they are demanding more games from the players while pleading poor and cutting back their match salaries. Let's be real: the Wallabies were suddenly involved in a Grand Slam tour last November because the extra Tests meant extra revenue for a supposedly cash-strapped union.

With the Super Rugby season expanding, a proposed National Rugby Championship being pushed by the ARU, and extra Tests added to the schedule, Australia's international players have only a few weeks of rest and sanity before embarking on a February to December torture course.

No wonder there is a long line of footballers constantly heading to hospitals for scans on various parts of their battered bodies. And no wonder many players look longingly at France as an opportunity for a better life, better conditions… and a better pay cheque.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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