Little more than a month after he returned to action following an 11-month battle with leukaemia, Australian international Christian Lealiifano is on the verge of joining Pro 14 side Ulster on a short-term deal.
The Belfast club is maintaining a coy silence, but the Belfast Telegraph has reported the club wants the Brumbies’ captain at the Kingspan Stadium in time for the opening match of the season against South African former Super Rugby side Cheetahs, on September 1.
The Canberra club, meanwhile, has scheduled a press conference with Lealiifano and the club’s athletic performance director, Ben Serpell, for Tuesday morning.
The 19-cap Wallaby would remain on the Irish provincial side’s books until the new Super Rugby season kicks off in February 2018. It is thought the off-season move will help fast-track Lealiifano’s comeback from illness, and it is believed to have the blessing of both the ARU and the Brumbies.
Lealiifano was diagnosed with leukaemia in August 2016. He reported that he was in remission in February following a successful bone marrow transplant, and returned to Super Rugby action off the bench during the Brumbies’ 35-16 Super Rugby quarter-final defeat against the Hurricanes last month.
An earlier planned comeback had been delayed by a hamstring strain, but he did get a run-out during an exhibition match in Singapore in June, and also played alongside brother Lix for Tuggeranong Vikings in Canberra.
If true, Lealiifano’s arrival at the Kingspan would be a huge boost for Ulster following the departure of cult club hero Ruan Pienaar to Montpellier at the end of last season and the absence of Ireland international Paddy Jackson, who has stepped down due to an ongoing police investigation.
Three weeks out from the start of their Pro14 campaign Ulster’s options at 10 look thin, with Ireland under-20 international Johnny McPhillips and 23-year-old South African-born, Ireland-qualified Brett Herron the only recognised fly-halves available.
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