Incumbent Wallabies captain Ben Mowen will only receive match payments if he represents the country this year after missing out on an Australian Rugby Union top-up contract.
But Mowen denied ARU negotiations had influenced his shock decision to quit the ACT Brumbies at the end of the year and take up a contract in France. Mowen's decision ends his chances of leading the Wallabies to the 2015 World Cup, but the 29-year-old said time with his family, including 18-month-old daughter Eleanor, was his priority.
In other developments:
- Mowen offered to stand down as Brumbies captain, but will be retained for the 2014 season.
- Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie says Mowen remains eligible for Test selection this year.
- Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham had been locked in negotiations with the ARU for the past month, pushing for Mowen to get a top-up Wallabies contract for 2015.
- Despite captaining the Wallabies for six of 15 Tests last year, Mowen was still rated outside the ARU's contract list.
The ARU system only contracts players who have represented the Wallabies for two years, with exemptions made for players such as Israel Folau. Mowen made his international debut only seven months ago, and he said his decision was based on not being able to ''emotionally invest'' in another two years on the road with the Brumbies and Wallabies.
''We were working along nicely [with ARU negotiations],'' he said.
''It got to the point before we even had to come to an agreement that I rang [McKenzie] and said, 'Look, it's not going to be about money.'
''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. But being away for so long [with the Wallabies and Brumbies], it was a bridge too far.''
Mowen will earn about as much in France as he could in Australia. But his French deal will be guaranteed and does not carry the pressure of having to play every week and earn representative bonuses.
Mowen is yet to announce which French club he is joining, but is in the final stages of negotiations.
The cash-strapped ARU is cutting costs. Test match payments were $13,100 last season, but will drop to $10,000 this year. Previously, the top 30 players in Australia were automatically guaranteed a top-up contract, which could be as much as $500,000.
Mowen's decision left many wondering if he was leaving too early or if he would still be the leader of a fully fit Wallabies squad.
It is an unprecedented call for a Wallabies captain a year before the World Cup. ''It was short and sweet for a Test career,'' Mowen said. ''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.''
It continues a bizarre off-season for the Brumbies, who have lost coach Jake White and chief executive Andrew Fagan since making the 2013 Super Rugby grand final.
Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher endorsed Mowen as the best man to lead the Brumbies. ''You need the best person for the job at the time and for the time he's here, he'll do that job exceptionally well,'' Fisher said.