Christian Lealiifano’s journey back to rugby just 11 months after a leukaemia diagnosis has gone well beyond the Brumbies’ four walls.
The Canberra playmaker has inspired all of his teammates, and his return off the bench in Friday night’s quarter-final will be a timely boost.
The 29-year-old’s journey, though, has not gone over the heads of their quarter-final opponents, with the popular flyhalf’s comeback watched by so many in rugby.
Hurricanes skipper TJ Perenara remembers when the news filtered through almost this time last year, when the Wellington side was preparing for what would ultimately be their first Super Rugby championship.
“Just before the final we found out that all happened and it shocked the rugby world,” he said.
“It’s not something you’d wish upon anyone and to be a part where he’s coming back after 10 months out of the game, it’s special to be a part of, not just because it’s a quarter-final but because someone in our community, in our rugby community, someone in our rugby family is coming back after such a long time out of the game.”
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said they only wanted to see the best from Christian on Friday night.
“When he got announced in the side, that’s obviously a testament to the man’s character – he’s obviously a fighter and he’s done really well and to get himself into remission,” he said.
“Then on top of that to come back and play professional rugby I think is an outstanding achievement so we wish him well.”
Lealiifano’s Brumbies co-captain Sam Carter said his long-time teammate’s comeback game would be a major boost.
“He brings a sense of calmness and composure,” he said.
“Anyone who’s been through what he’s been through in the last 12 months and can still be smiling, still be training and still be giving the input he has is an incredible achievement so I think just having him around makes a big difference.”
Prop Allan Alaalatoa said Lealiifano’s return, however brief it may be, would add an X-Factor to their game.
“It’s probably something no one expected and then for him to come out and do that through these difficult times, it’s huge for us just to look at him as an idol,” he said.
“It takes those nerves away from you, as he always says, you just can’t take it for granted, we’ve just got to make the most of tomorrow, use him as a lift for the team.”
The Brumbies take on the Hurricanes on Friday night, kicking off at 7:35pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.
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