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“The Hooker Was Beating Me In Fitness” – Christian Lealiifano Opens Up On Leukaemia Battle

Christian Lealiifano’s journey over the past 18 months or so has been nothing short of remarkable. 

The 30-year-old had successfully recovered from Leukaemia to make his return to professional rugby at the end of the Brumbies’ 2017 Super Rugby season.

He then travelled the 10,500 miles north to Belfast to take up a short-term deal with Ulster Rugby. The opportunity was a great one, it provides Lealiifano further game time to get back to the level which he wants to reach. It also allows Ulster to have a flyhalf in their ranks with considerable experience, quality and class.

In fact, Lealiifano has recently refused to rule out an extension to his current deal with Ulster, saying that he would consider the opportunity to stay on if it was something the club wanted.

“If something happens down the track [staying on], you definitely can’t rule that out,” Lealiifano told BBC Sport this week.

It goes without saying, that the journey Lealiifano has undergone has been an extremely difficult one for him, his family and his friends. Lealiifano gave an in-depth interview to BT Sport’s Sarra Elgan this week ahead of Ulster’s clash with Wasps on Friday night where he opens up on how he found out about his diagnosis, the impact it had on him and his family and the challenges associated with returning to the rugby pitch.

Lealiifano reveals that he knew something was up when he was struggling with his fitness during training.

“I was struggling with fitness, conditioning sessions. I think the hooker was beating me in fitness and I was like ‘something is wrong with me!'”

Lealiifano was soon diagnosed with Leukaemia, he found out on a Thursday and began chemotherapy the following Saturday, a sign of how important it was to tackle the illness immediately. His treatment involved a bone-marrow transplant in which his sister, Sally, was the donor.

“I feel like she was my angel, her name is Sally and her actual name is ‘Salvation’, so it’s like the stars were aligned.”

Ultimately, the experience has given the Auckland-born flyhalf a new lease on life in some respects, he has different perceptions and does not get hung up on things which would worry him before his battle over the last two years or so.

“You can’t thank people enough. If I could hug everyone, I would! The best way is to be the best person that I can be, to help others that I’m in contact with to become better as well or see something in themselves which they can really enjoy living. I think some people go through each day worrying about a lot of things, we all have it, it’s a natural instinct in all of us but to be able to have time to sit back and appreciate everything you have and why you have it.

“Some people miss that a bit and when you have that opportunity, I think, you got to take it and really enjoy it.”

You can watch man the full interview here.

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Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email [email protected] or on Twitter