Autumn internationals: Ben Mowen spurred on by history in quest for revenge
World Cup defeat to England in 2003 left an indelible mark on Australia's new captain
Ben Mowen had never visited the UK before this week, never mind Twickenham, but the nearly-new captain of Australia knows enough of his rugby history to have his mind on revenge.
"I was round a mate's house watching the World Cup final in 2003," said Mowen, who has led the Wallabies just once before, and has only 10 caps overall dating back to his debut during the Lions series in June. "I was 18 and I remember sitting there with a few tears in my eyes. The banter's been going ever since."
Mowen, who was watching from the crowd when England edged Australia in Sydney in 2010, added: "I've been set on playing the English ever since I was a young bloke growing up. I know how important this game is to our side. Take away the leadership – if we win at Twickenham it would be one of the proudest moments of my career, for sure."
While England have been busy banging the drum of the 10-year anniversary of Jonny's drop-goal and all that, the results closer to the here-and-now are in Australia's favour, with Wallaby wins on three of their past four trips to Twickenham. Oh, and in Ewen McKenzie they have a head coach with a World Cup final win on his CV, at English headquarters, no less.
You want an anniversary, cobber? How about this very day, 2 November, in 1991 when McKenzie was propping for the Wallabies who took down Will Carling's England, 12-6. "Mate, he never shuts up about it," said Mowen. "It's great to have a coach who is a former player from a real golden era in Australian rugby. He had his hands on every cup that was around. He knows what a good team culture can do and that's what he's been driving home in the last couple of months."
The 28-year-old Mowen has taken a roundabout route to leading the Wallabies: he moved from the Queensland Reds to New South Wales Waratahs only to suffer rejection when they signed Rocky Elsom in 2011. Luckily the super-savvy Brumbies coach Jake White saw something in him and, together with Mowen as skipper, they took the Canberra-based franchise to this year's Super Rugby final. Even then, Mowen's selection against the Lions owed much to an injury to Scott Higginbotham. Now the No 8 describes a Wallaby squad lacking the sacked back James O'Connor but with the reassimilated Quade Cooper promoted to vice-captain as "a very happy group off the field" and "the most focused" he has seen them. "Some of Australia's best performances in the last couple of years have been backs against the wall against the English at Twickenham," said Mowen. "Last year it was a win by 20-14 and a special performance."
Nick Cummins was the crucial try-scorer on that occasion and the Western Force wing may need just as much watching as the lavishly talented treble-code full-back Israel Folau who, in common with Mowen, caught the eye during the 2-1 series loss to the Lions. "This side is much better developed and more rounded in terms of our game style and where we want to be than it was against the Lions," said Mowen.
While in London, Mowen has taken a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and visited his brother in Bath; but a good deal of his time has been spent pondering possible England weaknesses. "I think for England to lose Geoff Parling, a real general of the line-out, is difficult to replace," he said. "That'll be an area where we've got to make sure we squeeze hard."
Mowen will be plotting Australia's line-out operations opposite a comparative rookie in England's Courtney Lawes. "A Test match is a very tough environment to call in," Mowen warned. "From my experience of it, having a couple of years of doing it in various pressure situations does help massively. It's very easy to do in practice when you've got time and no pressure. Game-calling is a different situation all together."
He also said he had expected Parling's fellow Lion, the scrum-half Ben Youngs, to start. "It shows that [Stuart] Lancaster is rewarding performance, he's picking guys on form there, so that's creating a good competitive environment. So I'd say there's a lot of similarities in both groups at the moment."
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