Christian Lealiifano hopes to end his emotional rollercoaster spell in Belfast with a victory over Wasps that will send Ulster into the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Champions Cup Pool 1
Wasps v Ulster
Tomorrow: Ricoh Arena, 3.15pm
Referee: Jérome Garcès
TV: BT Sport
Bet: Wasps 8/13 Ulster 11/8 Draw 19/1
A bonus-point victory in the Ricoh Arena will see Ulster top Pool One while a win of any sort will also guarantee them a place in the knockout stages.
Either way, tomorrow’s game against the Aviva Premiership side will be the last one the Australian out-half plays in an Ulster shirt ahead of his planned return home, where he will team up with the Brumbies Super Rugby team once more.
Lealiifano underwent treatment for leukaemia in August 2016, after discovering the cancer just two weeks after the Super Rugby final.
He went into remission in February 2017, and was allowed to join Ulster last summer to build up game time in Belfast ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby season.
The five months are coming to an end now, a period in which he has become a fan favourite in the Kingspan Stadium, where he was given an emotional send off after last weekend’s crucial win over La rochelle.
Now he has the chance to repay the fans with victory in England.
“I feel like I’ve really got the job done by enjoying my rugby and the experience that I’ve had,” he said. “Anything we get on top of that is a bonus.
“I feel in a really good space. I didn’t think I’d play to the level that I have.
“I probably didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I have and to be able to tick those boxes off in terms of my health, first and foremost, and then to get fit and strong in rugby has been an absolute bonus and something I never take for granted each day coming in here to work.”
Lealiifano, who has teamed up impressively with John Cooney at half back, was overtaken by emotion in last weekend’s fixture, and admits he was shocked by how Ulster fans took to him in such a short period of time.
“Last week at home, with it being Europe as well, the send-off that I got was something that I’ll never forget. The crowd here, and all the supporters and fans all over social media, it’s been so humbling.
“I’ll miss everything. I think I’ve really embraced that part of it, everyone talks about it a lot, but seeing snow, it’s an exciting time for me.
“I’ve really appreciated things like that. I’ll miss all aspects of being here in Ulster.”
Les Kiss has made three three changes for Sunday’s game with Darren Cave starting in place of midfielder Craig Gilroy, while Kieran Treadwell starts in the second row, as Iain Henderson moves to flanker.
Kyle McCall replaces Callum Black in the front row. Wasps, who make four changes, need a bonus-point win to keep their mathematical hopes of advancing alive.
Lealiifano aims for perfect farewell
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