As Ulster entered this season, they were in need of some outhalf cover. With Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding currently out of action due to a pending investigation, they were light in this area.
They called on Wallaby flyhalf, Christian Lealiifano who signed with the northern province on a short-term loan until the new year, where he will return to the Brumbies ahead of the new Super Rugby season which kicks off in February.
Lealifaano has battled back from Leukaemia over the past 18 months to return to the rugby field and his class has been there for all to see after he has put in some stellar performances for Les Kiss’ side. Lealiifano is 30-years-old, he’s been around the block and his experiences over the last year and a half can only put things into perspective.
Rory Best, who is hoping to return from injury in time for Ulster’s Round 2 Champions Cup clash in a few weeks, couldn’t speak highly enough of Lealiifano and the impact he made straight away when he arrived at the club.
“Look, he’s obviously a quality player. Some of his performances, especially straight off the bat in his first game. That showed you the level of a player he is, the quality we brought in there. But I think around the place he’s just a really, really enthusiastic guy,” Best told Pundit Arena at today’s EPCR launch in Dublin.
“I would guess that he’s brought a different approach to his life over the last 18 months. That sort of stuff, and rightly so, completely changes you. It takes away the tunnel vision of ‘all that’s important is the next game.’ But to go with it, the next game is important but there’s also a lot of things around it that is equally as important.”
Ulster have lost a lot of experienced players over the last few seasons – Ruan Pienaar, Stephen Ferris and now the unavailability of Jackson and Olding – and this has led to a quite youthful makeup of the Ulster XVs we have seen over the last number of weeks. Best believes that Lealiifano is a great example to the young players at the club in terms of his professionalism and maturity and that this can only be good for Ulster rugby.
“He’s [Lealiifano] been a really good influence in terms of the maturity that he’s brought around the place when we have a lot of young guys and it’s just about channelling them into the right direction. He’s just been a really good addition to us.”
Best will be hoping Lealiifano can help Ulster get back to winning ways in the first Irish interprovincial derby of the season this Friday when they host Connacht at Kingspan Stadium.
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