Australian outhalf Christian Lealiifano gives Ulster versatility
Wallaby international expected to arrive in Belfast once visa has been secured
Christian Lealiifano has made a remarkable recovery after being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2016. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The immediate benefit of Ulster signing Christian Lealiifano is the 29-year-old’s versatility.
Ireland internationals Jackson and Olding are facing prosecution for the alleged rape of a woman in south Belfast. The pair, who deny the charges, have been relieved of their rugby duties pending the outcome of the legal process.
As a result Ulster have recruited Lealiifano with a view to playing the New Zealand-born player at outhalf even though just two of his 19 caps for Australia came in that position.
“The process started some months ago,” said Bryn Cunningham, Ulster head of operations. “We weren’t 100 per cent what would happen down the line so we had to start that process very, very early. Get a list of players together and it was pretty clear from an early stage that Christian was the front-runner for us. He is a quality player with huge experience at international level.
“In January time we can re-evaluate the situation and see where we are.
“He’s a leader, so the lads can feed off that, and a very good goal kicker as well. We hope to have him on board in a week or two. Visas are always a big thing but we hope to have that sorted. I think the fans will enjoy watching him play.”
Director of rugby Les Kiss added: “Christian’s a proven leader and we’re excited by the influence that he’ll have on our young fly halves Peter Nelson, Brett Herron, Johnny McPhillips and Callum Smith. We also have two exciting players in our academy, Michael Lowry and Angus Curtis, who will also have a fantastic opportunity to learn from him.”
Lealiifano has another year to run on his contract with the ACT Brumbies. He has made a remarkable recovery after being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2016.
Meanwhile, Munster have denied a report in the Limerick Leader which stated Felix Jones was set to become the interim head coach when Rassie Erasmus returns to South Africa in December.
“There is no basis to the story,” said a Munster spokesperson.
Jones toured Japan with Ireland in June as part of a new IRFU scheme to expose young coaches to Joe Schmidt’s set-up. Ronan O’Gara and Girvan Dempsey also went on tour.
At 30, Jones would still be playing but for as serious neck injury sustained in 2015. The former Munster captain was added to the coaching staff last year.
Erasmus is due to speak for the first time since his appointment as Springbok director of rugby at Wednesday’s Pro 14 launch in Dublin.