Lealiifano on loan to Ulster

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Christian Lealiifano will continue his rugby comeback in Ireland, signing a loan deal with Pro14 side Ulster.

Though the move had been speculated in recent weeks, the Brumbies only confirmed the deal on Monday night.

Lealiifano has made a remarkable comeback to elite rugby since being diagnosed with leukaemia just a year ago, playing the second half of the Brumbies' quarter-final loss to the Hurricanes last month.

The playmaker spoke to media flast week, or the first time since his comeback , opening up on the support he has received from freinds and family on his journey to recovery.

Lealiifano said the move would enable him to add more minutes as he prepares for a full-blown Super Rugby tilt in 2018.

“Having missed almost an entire season whilst recovering, I feel that it’s important that I get some minutes playing competitive rugby ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season and Ulster have provided a great environment for me to do that," he said.

“They are a well-respected club and are genuine challengers for the PRO14 title. I have heard good things about the set-up there and am looking forward to working with the Ulster coaching team and squad.

“With this opportunity, I feel I can come back to the Brumbies in great shape ahead of the build-up to the new Super Rugby season. Dan [McKellar] and the Brumbies staff have been very supportive of this idea and I am excited by the challenges that lay ahead.”

Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said there were no qualms in letting Lealiifano stretch his wings for a short time. 

“We see a real benefit for Christian in joining Ulster for a brief period both on and off the field,” McKellar said.

“On field, it is about Christian getting an opportunity to play professional rugby for a good club in a very strong competition.

“Off field, it is about Christian and his family getting the chance to experience a new culture and enjoy new life experiences that he was unfortunately denied 12 months ago.

“He has trained very hard with us whilst recovering and is in excellent shape.

“We wish him all the best in Ireland and look forward to welcoming him back to the Brumbies for pre-season training in early January.”

Back in Canberra, utility back Andrew Smith has extended his time at the Brumbies, re-signing for 2018.

McKellar said Smith's versatility made him an important part of the club.

"Smithy’s experience and ability to cover a number of positions makes him a valuable member of our group," he said.

“He has played for the Brumbies for a long time now and understands what the club means to Canberra and Southern NSW, and the community, and that is important for us as a club."