For most of his career, Christian Lealiifano has played with his father on his wrist and in his heart, but the past fortnight has given him his own legacy to play for.
Lealiifano’s partner Luga gave birth to their first child, Jeremih last Tuesday, with his decision to stay with her during the wait keeping him away from his first Wallabies camp since 2014.
Jeremih, named from a mix of Luga’s love for R&B singer Jeremih and the biblical significance of the name Jeremiah, has been in front of Lealiifano’s mind since.
Lealiifano used to draw on his late father Tavita for inspiration, penning his name on his matchday wrist tape but the 28-year-old has started putting his son's name on his tape instead.
“Something that Cheik drives is why you play the game and what your purpose is and what you do,” he said.
“Definitely a big part of that is to have that constant reminder.
“It was my dad for a long, long time and now I’m a father I think it’s time to pass the baton on and really, really play for my son and really represent him and my little family well.”
It hasn’t been an easy couple of weeks for Lealiifano, having to make the difficult choice between Wallabies camp and his newborn but said he was grateful that both the team and his family supported him in every scenario.
“Jeez, it was so hard,” he said.
“To know that you’re going to leave your son and the missus behind. Jeez, she was amazing through that time and to think, ‘oh, I’ve got to drop everything’.
“We spoke about it as soon as they asked if I was prepared to head up and so we had some long chats and she was super supportive.
“I was lucky that she was understanding.
“It was very tough to leave the little man but you can’t really do much when all you do is hold him and change his diapers and things like that so I was glad I got out of that.”
With coach Cheika holding a firm family first stance, Lealiifano was never under any pressure to rush into camp and it’s a situation for which he is incredibly appreciative.
“It was super important and that's where I've been really lucky and grateful, that the staff and Cheik and the playing group were super supportive of letting me be there for that moment.
“It's a moment I'll never forget.”
Lealiifano wasn’t totally out of the rugby sphere while he was in Canberra, with Wallabies attack coach and Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham filling him in on game plans and calls through the week.
“He was just sort of speaking to me about getting my head around the calls,” he said.
“Phase calls, set piece stuff they were running and just get my head around that.
“He wasn’t really thinking about combinations.
“I could’ve just said, ‘No,I’m going to stay with my family,’ so they had to have plans in place."
Lealiifano returns to his home town this week, playing his first Test in Melbourne since the 2013 British and Irish Lions series, a situation almost parallel to the one the Wallabies find themselves in now.
One Test down, they managed to overcome the Lions at Etihad Stadium then and Lealiifano said he was looking forward to making some more memories this time around.
“There are fond memories for me of the Lions series...those are memories I’ll never forget but now it’s time to make some new ones this weekend.”