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Former Ulster star earns Wallabies recall for first time in three years after overcoming cancer

Christian Lealiifano has been included in the 34-man squad for their Rugby Championship opener.

Christian Lealiifano in action for Ulster in 2018.
Christian Lealiifano in action for Ulster in 2018.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

CANCER SURVIVOR CHRISTIAN Lealiifano has been recalled to the Australia squad for the first time in three years.

Brumbies skipper Lealiifano, 31, has been included in Michael Cheika’s 34-man squad for the Rugby Championship opener against South Africa in Johannesburg on 20 July.

Lealiifano — who has had stints with Japanese Top League team Toyota Shokkimade and Ulster — made his last Wallabies appearance in June 2016 before a leukaemia diagnosis ruled him out of action for a year.

He is one of 10 Brumbies players to make the cut after their impressive run to the Super Rugby semi-finals.

“I’m not the expert to speak on what he’s been through, because only he knows that and his family,” Cheika said.

“Obviously from a coaching point of view, what you can’t deny is his form in Super Rugby at the end of the day.

You take out all the other things because we know what he’s achieved in his life. You just take all that away and he’s been playing good and he deserves to be there.”

Number eight Isi Naisarani and back-rowers Liam Wright and Rob Valetini will hope to earn their first Test cap after being included, while James Slipper is back in the international set-up following a two- year hiatus.

Lealiifano has been selected ahead of Quade Cooper, while there is no place in the squad for scrum-half Nick Phipps or utility forward Ned Hanigan in what is a blow to their Rugby World Cup hopes.

David Pocock, Adam Coleman, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pete Samu and Jordan Petaia miss out through injury. 

Cheika added: “We tried to look at Super Rugby form and what they can bring. We’ve done a lot of preparation in the last few years, exposing young players to senior footy and now we want to see those players in the Test environment wherever possible.

“It was tough, really tough. It was the first time we’ve worked as a selection panel with different voices and different opinions challenging each other but I think we’ve come to a better outcome than if I was just picking it myself.”

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Australia Squad:

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga’a, Michael Hooper, Luke Jones, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini, Liam Wright.

Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Jack Maddocks, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua, Nic White.

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