Australian rugby has been crying out for some positivity this year. Set against a backdrop of Israel Folau and financial collapse, is the timely figure of Christian Leali’ifano, the likeable 31 year old who is back in the Australia squad after three years absence, having successfully recovered from blood cancer leukemia, who should provide it.
Ultimately, it his outstanding form for the Brumbies has justified his selection, as emphasied by Aussie coach Michael Cheika, “He deserves to be there… I’m not the expert to speak on what Christian has been through, only he knows that and his family. What you can’t deny is his form in Super Rugby.” However, it is Leali’ifano’s spirit and dignity when faced with adversity that sets him apart.
Leali’ifano has admitted there were times when he thought he would never play rugby again, but, “when the doctor gave me the all clear that I could return back to work, that was when I had my eye on the prize.”
He has also since reflected on the way his experience has changed his outlook on life, “I would go through this 10 times again for the person I am today,” he said. “The journey I have been through and the person that I have become.”
Following a fruitful spell playing for Ulster, the Australian fly half or inside centre returned to play for the Brumbies, his club since 2007, in 2018.
After becoming captain, and reaching the impressive landmark 150 Super Rugby appearances, earlier this year he announced his departure from the Brumbies in order to pursue a career in Japan after the World Cup.
“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,” said head coach Dan McKellar, who was full of praise for Leali’ifano, “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 Leali’ifano. 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 team-mates, he’s an incredible person.”
An individual for Australia, and all involved in rugby, to be proud of.
Written by Joe Ronan