SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia and ACT Brumbies back Christian Lealiifano will make his Super Rugby return in the playoff against the Wellington Hurricanes on Friday, less than a year after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
Lealiifano, who has played 19 tests for the Wallabies at flyhalf and inside centre, was named on the bench on Tuesday for the Brumbies’ quarter-final against the reigning Super Rugby champions at Canberra Stadium.
The popular 29-year-old was told in February that his leukaemia was in remission after he had undergone chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from his sister late last year.
“It would be a gamble if I thought he wasn’t right to play,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said on Monday.
“But the way that he’s trained with the team over the last three months gives me a fair indication that he’s ready to play.”
Lealiifano’s inclusion was one of a string of changes made to the squad by Larkham, who rested a raft of players for last weekend’s 28-10 loss to the Waikato Chiefs.
That left the Brumbies, who qualified for a home quarter-final as winners of the Australian conference, with a 6-9 record for the regular season.
Inside centre Kyle Godwin and winger Aidan Toua were unavailable for selection because of injury with Andrew Smith and James Dargaville getting the starts in their stead.
The Brumbies must become the first Australian team to beat a New Zealand side in 26 attempts this season if they are to secure a semi-final in South Africa against the Lions or the Sharks.
The high-scoring Hurricanes have been better than the Brumbies in almost every department this season, and hammered them 56-21 in round nine, but that does not bother Larkham.
“It’s a new season and everything before is irrelevant,” he said.
“We’re pretty happy with the way we’ve prepared for this (match). It’s do or die irrespective of how you’ve gone through the season, it all comes down to this game.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)