When Brumbies captain Ben Mowen played for the Waratahs, he was oblivious to the depth of dislike the Canberra side felt for NSW. Two years on, and with the clash against the Waratahs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night approaching, Mowen now understands how deep that passion is.
In the lead-up to what the Brumbies regard as their biggest game of the season, the 195-centimetre, 110-kilogram back-rower also feels that dislike.
Mowen, whose arrival at the Australian capital last year was preceded by one season at the Queensland Reds in 2006 and four at NSW from 2008 to 2011, says the feeling is real and not just hype.
And having experienced what Queenslanders feel about NSW, the Brumbies No.8 says the emotion felt about the Waratahs is just as strong as it was before a Reds-Waratahs clash. ”I have to admit I was very naive to the hatred,” Mowen, 28, said on Wednesday.
”In terms of our Waratahs prep for this game, we always treated it very importantly and understood it was going to be a tough match. But I didn’t understand until I joined this side [the Brumbies], the passion that comes with that.
”It is very much a Queensland hatred of NSW that is mirrored down at the ACT against NSW.”
Mowen said the Brumbies, created in 1996 mostly from players regarded as rejects from NSW and Queensland, spoke among themselves about their feelings for the Waratahs last week.
It was fitting, he said, the Waratahs clash came as 110-Test veteran and breakaway George Smith returned from playing in Japan (after leaving Canberra in 2010) to play out the season with them.
”We spoke about it, saying how excited we were for this week to come because it was going to be an important week,” Mowen said. ”In terms of the importance, Waratah games are absolutely everything.”
Mowen was surprised to learn how deep the ”roots” of Brumbies sentiment against NSW were after being planted in 1996 when the Brumbies began as rejects and went on to win Super titles in 2001 and 2004.
”That’s been one of the amazing attributes the Brumbies have had,” Mowen said. ”It’s always been deeply connected to those roots, as a bunch of misfits who have come together and out-performed expectations.
”I found that pretty amazing, for a group that has evolved each year to still have those connections.”
Mowen admitted that when he played at the Waratahs he felt out of place. Asked if he saw himself as a misfit, he said: ”Yes and no … I loved my time at NSW, but in the same breath I didn’t feel like it fitted perfectly.
”I didn’t feel as settled as I do down here. That’s probably got a lot to do with me as a person … at this stage of my life. [With wife Lauren] we have just had a daughter in Canberra and bought a house. We feel settled.
”When I was in Queensland I thought I was going to play a hundred games for them. When I was with NSW, I thought I was going to play a hundred games for them. It’s funny where you eventually find your home.”
Mowen and former Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone, who played alongside Smith from 2004 to 2009, addressed the players on Monday ”about what this game means to those two guys”.
With two wins from two games and last weekend’s bye, the Brumbies are considered the team to beat in the Australian conference. Mowen doesn’t play down the sense of stability and confidence that permeates throughout the Brumbies after last year’s rebuilding under coach Jake White.
”It’s a different feel to last year,” he said. ”Last year there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of noise, but it was a little misdirected at times. This year, it is much calmer and we are going about our work knowing exactly how we want to play.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.