Christian Lealiifano will depart Australian Rugby at the end of the 2019 season, the Brumbies have confirmed.
The 31-year-old, who has been a one club player since he made his debut in Australia, will take up a contract in Japanese rugby.
The news marks the second key departure from Rugby Australia’s ranks in the space of a week, following news Samu Kerevi had signed a three-year deal with Japanese club Suntory last week.
Both Lealiifano and Kerevi have been included in the Wallabies Rugby World Cup training squad.
“This was a difficult decision for me and I would like to thank the Brumbies for their support throughout my time at the club,” Lealiifano said.
“The Brumbies mean a lot to me and my family, and they have given me so much.
“I leave with many amazing memories and friendships which I will cherish.
“I believe this club has a bright future under Dan and his coaching staff and look forward to following that progress.
“We still have much to play for this season as well, starting with our quarter-final against the Sharks on Saturday evening, and I am fully focused on doing my best to help us reach the next stage.”
The news strikes another hammer blow for the finals-bound Brumbies, who are also set to lose David Pocock, Henry Speight, Sam Carter and Rory Arnold after this season.
Lealiifano has spent 12 years with the Brumbies, having made his debut with the club in 2008 and has since made 148 appearances for the Canberra-based outfit, captaining on 46 occasions. It makes him the third-most capped skipper in Brumbies history.
Coach Dan McKellar said it was a shame to lose the fly-half.
“We are sad to see Christian move on but we are very grateful to have had such a quality person at our club for so long,” McKellar said.
“Christian has been a huge part of the Brumbies for 12 years now. His contribution both on field and off field have been enormous.
“Christian the player, has been so important for us, his fearlessness, his direction, his leadership, particularly this year. He’s grown so much as a leader in my time here, but Christian the person is what makes him who he is.
“You will not meet a more selfless person then Christian Lealiifano. To go through what he went through, and to comeback and still find time to lead and care for those around him, to be there for his teammates, he’s an incredible person. He should be very proud of the legacy he leaves at the Brumbies.”
The Brumbies will begin their finals campaign against the Sharks on Saturday evening, with the club winning a home quarter-final after topping the Australian conference.
It could turn out to be Lealiifano’s final home game for the Brumbies though, with the Crusaders and Jaguares taking the top two spots and being in line to host semi-finals should they win this weekend.