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This Australian international is NOT coming to Ulster as province set to fill the shoes of departing Leali'ifano

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Operations Director Bryn Cunningham may have fanned the flames of speculation with his confirmation that the province will replace Christian Leali'ifano in the coming days, but fans expecting Matt Giteau to walk through the doors at Kingspan Stadium should be braced for disappointment.

Leali'ifano arrived on these shores back in August after an arrangement was made with his Australian club Brumbies that would see the 30-year-old play the first half of the campaign in the northern hemisphere as part of his efforts to get back to top-level rugby following his cancer battle.

With that deal expiring after the conclusion of the Champions Cup pool stages at the end of this month, and Paddy Jackson still absent, a second short-term deal has been agreed with another overseas out-half.

That situation prompted the speculation, or perhaps the nice distraction from two recent inter-pro defeats, that we'd soon be seeing Giteau pulling on a white jersey.

The Wallaby legend, a former international team-mate of Leali'ifano, is currently plying his trade in Japan where his Suntory Sun Goliath team are gunning for a Top League title this weekend.

With the former Toulon man's contract expiring shortly after that final, the Belfast Telegraph understands the 35-year-old, also linked with a return to France, will not be arriving in Belfast.

"We've got a plan and we're just holding off on the details," said Director of Rugby Les Kiss in the aftermath of the loss to Leinster. "Christian has two more games, and he's done a really good job. There's no doubting what he's done for Pete Nelson, Brett Herron and Johnny McPhillips, who had a good impact (against Leinster).

"He's been a good influence on those young guys. We've said all along that we want someone in there with a bit of experience, and that'll be announced in due course."

While part of Leali'ifano's remit when he pitched up in August was to bring on Ulster's younger No.10s, the benefits of working with the experienced Australian have been seen almost wholly behind the scenes.

Pete Nelson, who when fit last year was considered Jackson's back-up and wore the No.10 jersey during the Six Nations, has started two games with a further six sub appearances, most of which have been for limited minutes.

Former Irish U20s international Johnny McPhillips has appeared twice in the senior side and impressed over the festive period, but both in games when the result had since been decided, while Herron has been playing for Ballymena this season.

When Ulster take to the field for the first time after Leali'ifano's departure, against the Southern Kings in Belfast on February 9, the young trio will once again find themselves behind a hired hand.

Stephen Donald, a former All Black and 2011 World Cup winner, is another who has been making a living in Japan, and will be off contract in the middle of this month.

The province have said they will not be commenting on any speculation until a signing is announced.

Belfast Telegraph

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