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Stephen Moore's defection caps off tumultuous week in ACT Brumbies land, so what's going on?

Stephen Moore is a leader of men, one of the most respected figures in Australian rugby and wanted to be the first captain in more than a decade to lift the ACT Brumbies to Super Rugby glory.

Stephen Moore will leave the Brumbies at the end of next year. The news capped off a tumultuous week at the Brumbies
Stephen Moore will leave the Brumbies at the end of next year. The news capped off a tumultuous week at the Brumbies Photo: Matt Bedford

That's why people are still picking their jaws up off the ground after Moore, the Brumbies and Wallabies skipper, signed a three-year deal with the Queensland Reds on Thursday.

What is happening at Brumbyland? Players were shocked and devastated when coach Stephen Larkham told them the news on Thursday at training. Moore's move was the latest twist in a tumultuous week at Canberra's rugby club.

The club should be preparing for a Super Rugby campaign that could see them rise to the top – boasting a starting XV that could have 11 Wallabies, including Moore, David Pocock, Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani.

Instead they have been bogged down in off-field affairs, after news of a rift emerged between the Brumbies and long-time partner the University of Canberra. UC vice chancellor Stephen Parker sent a letter to Brumbies boss Michael Jones on Monday notifying him of a potential defamation case.

The Brumbies announced a $1.68 million loss on Wednesday night, but avoided a major board room shake-up as they forecast a $2.5 million turnaround next year.

The Brumbies are also still negotiating a new deal with the ACT government to play games at Canberra Stadium, and have investigated potential home games in Queanbeyan or Sydney.

They met with government officials on Thursday and a deal to stay in the capital is likely before Christmas.

But the knockout blow for the week of drama came with Moore's defection.

Social media went into a spin, with some pointing the finger at management and others trying to come to grips with one of the biggest walkouts in Brumbies history.

It's the second time in three years an incumbent Wallabies captain has quit the club, following Ben Mowen's decision to move to Montpellier in France at the end of the 2014 campaign.

The news hit a nerve at Brumbies headquarters. Moore is walking away from a team capable of winning the Super Rugby championship to join a club that has won just nine games in two seasons.

It would have been easier to swallow if Moore had been lured abroad by rich clubs offering big money. But the Reds? The club that is still shrouded in coaching uncertainty with Richard Graham needing a good start to the season to keep his job.

Let's remember Moore falls into the special Australian rugby category that would have allowed him to sign with a cashed-up overseas club and still be eligible to captain the Wallabies after his 12 years of service and 102 Tests.

Joining an overseas club for a life experience overseas thanks to the new ARU eligibility rules is different to changing states. Moore chose the Reds, and making it harder the fact he has just moved into a new Canberra home and is believed to be considering a return to the capital when his playing days are over.

Jones released a strongly worded statement, claiming the Brumbies had "moved heaven and earth" to meet "every demand" of Moore's management.

Behind the scenes the Brumbies were confident Moore would commit after upping their offer, working with the ARU and giving Moore a contract that would see him stay in Australian rugby until 2019. The deal would have taken Moore through to the 2019 World Cup as a 36-year-old.

It's understood there were some clauses in the deal that related to managing Moore's workload as he got older and both parties were working to smooth them out.

It's also understood Moore was on the verge of a deal with Irish club Munster, and met with at least five clubs in England and Ireland to discuss the potential of playing abroad.

Moore did not respond to calls on Thursday. He is on leave from rugby duties after a hectic year that involved Super Rugby, the World Cup and a game for the Barbarians in London.

He started his career at the Queensland Reds in 2003 before joining the Brumbies for the 2009 season.

Queensland is his home. It's closer to his family and he has two young children.

But is his defection the start of bigger problems for the Brumbies? Playmaker Matt Toomua signed a deal with Leicester and winger Joseph Tomane is poised to move to France.

Pocock is considering his future and it remains unknown whether he will sign a deal beyond the end of 2016. If Pocock leaves, it will be an even bigger blow for the Brumbies.

So where to now for the club? The Brumbies know the 2016 campaign is their chance to win the title for the first time since 2004.

The "premiership window" is often talked about in sport. For the Brumbies, it re-opened when they made the grand final in 2013, and the finals in 2014 and 2015. Will 2016 be the last chance of what has been an era of revival?

The club is confident it has off-field stability, with Jones predicting an increase in crowds, targeting more members and sponsorship revenue and finally turning a profit.

Now the focus has to turn to keeping the squad together, but it's going to be hard to replace Moore – as a hooker or captain.

There has been some talk of whether Moore should keep the captaincy next season, given he is departing at the end of 2016.

The short answer is Moore deserves the role. It shouldn't be stripped of him in spite.

If the Brumbies deem that he's not the best man for the role, then fair enough. If they decide Moore is better placed as a mentor in 2016 and that he should take a step back to help develop a new skipper, then so be it.

But Moore is a man of integrity and leadership skills that are scarce in rugby circles. Until he breaks his silence, the real reasons behind his move won't be known.

The veteran hooker will play his 150th Super Rugby game when the Brumbies start their season against the Wellington Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium on February 26.

It should be a celebration. Instead it will be the start of an unwanted farewell tour.

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