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Former Ulster ace Leali'ifano is back for Oz after cancer battle

 

Big impact: Aussie Christian Leali’ifano in action for Ulster
Big impact: Aussie Christian Leali’ifano in action for Ulster
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Former Ulster fly-half Christian Leali'ifano has been named in his first Australia squad since his cancer diagnosis for the upcoming Rugby Championship.

The 31-year-old, who spent the first half of the 2017-18 season on loan at Kingspan Stadium, has been recalled by Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika after a five-year absence from the international stage.

Leali'ifano's battle to return to the national set-up is an inspiring one after he was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer of 2016, leading to an enforced break from the game as he received treatment.

But the fly-half heroically battled back from the illness, entering remission in February 2017, leading to a brief return for the Brumbies before agreeing to join Ulster on loan.

The Australian became a quick favourite among the fans in Belfast for his enthusiastic attitude and strong performances, playing 17 games for the province before returning to the Brumbies.

Now, having been included in the Wallabies squad on merit, Leali'ifano will be setting his sights on being part of the 31-man squad that Cheika will take to Japan for the World Cup in September.

The mercurial back was denied a place in the 2015 World Cup after being a shock omission from Cheika's squad, but he will be eager to make up for that this year.

"I'm not the expert to speak on what Christian has been through, only he knows that and his family," said Cheika of Leali'ifano's cancer battle.

"What you can't deny is his form in Super Rugby at the end of the day. If you take out all the other things that he's achieved, he's been playing good in Super Rugby and deserves to be there."

Leali'ifano will vie for a starting jersey for the Wallabies' first game against the Springboks in Johannesburg on July 20.

That game is followed by a clash with Argentina in Brisbane on July 27, with their final match against the All Blacks in Perth on August 10.

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