Lealiifano's aura is 'second to none' in Wallabies team
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP REACTION: Christian Lealiifano thought his days as a Wallabies starter were over, and that was before he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
So it was no surprise the No.10 struggled to find the words to describe what it felt like to help Australia past Argentina 16-10 in front of nearly 32 000 appreciative fans in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Brumbies captain’s last game for Australia was in 2016, but it wasn’t since 2014 that he started in a Test and a lot has happened since then.
“I still had the belief to push my claims, but definitely I had those thoughts and after the illness that [prospect of playing for Australia] definitely went away – I thought I’d never play footy again,” he said.
“It was [about] just trying to get back to health, be a dad, son, brother, those are my main ambitions, this is just an added bonus.”
The win, however ugly, was important for a side learning to grind out results and Lealiifano was happy he could contribute in that sense.
“To be able to accumulate points, build on nice work [was important] and I think Test footy is about building pressure,” he said.
“To grind out the win was a solid performance.
“My focus was just contributing to the team as best I could … it wasn’t about being flashy or whatever.”
Replacing regular starter Bernard Foley, the flyhalf didn’t miss from three penalty attempts and one conversion.
It was Lealiifano’s dummy and slick pass to put Marika Koroibete through a hole that led to Reece Hodge’s first-half try.
And his general play kicking – alongside Kurtley Beale and Will Genia’s – was refreshingly sensible too as the side kept finding ways out of the danger zone.
Those elements of his game were applauded by coach Michael Cheika while Lealiifano’s World Cup prospects are boosted by how greatly he is respected internally.
“The aura about him, the buzz he brings to the team, is second to none,” Samu Kerevi said.
“To be where he is now, it’s amazing and credit to his family and himself.”