Ulster have refused to confirm, or deny, that they are poised to sign the talented Wallaby fly-half Christian Leali’ifano on a short-term contract.
With Paddy Jackson, and fellow international Stuart Olding, both unavailable for the foreseeable future due to pending legal charges in Northern Ireland, Ulster have moved swiftly to fill a giant void at half-back where Ruan Pienaar’s absence will also be keenly felt.
It is believed that discussions are at a very advanced stage between Ulster, the Brumbies and Australian Rugby Union with legal matters preventing pen being put to paper. However, Ulster hope to have everything wrapped up in time for the start of the Pro14 when they tackle the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs in Belfast on September 1.
Leali’ifano, capped 19 times by Australia, and was the Brumbies skipper, is eager to regain full fitness after overcoming a battle with leukaemia which was diagnosed last summer.
The 29-year-old Auckland-born Leali’ifano, who can also operate at centre, is very keen to sharpen up his game before heading back to Canberra at the start of the New Year when the Brumbies prepare for the 2018 Super Rugby campaign which kicks-off at the end of February.
Leali’ifano, who made his international debut against the touring Lions back in 2013, when he started all three Tests, underwent two courses of chemotherapy. His sister Sally had proved a perfect match when he underwent a bone marrow transplant this time last year.
He made his playing comeback two months ago for the Brumbies when he came off the bench in an exhibition game in Queenstown Stadium, Singapore where he scored a try and knocked over five conversions.
Waiting in the wings to hopefully see who his partner will be at half-back is Ulster’s new signing John Cooney, the former Connacht and Leinster scrum-half. Cooney is keen to start on Thursday night at the Kingspan Stadium where Ulster take on Wasps in the first of two pre-season warm-up games.
Cooney was at a pre-season gig last night as Ulster unveiled their 2017-18 kit. Unfortunately, the new Guinness 14-team league format came too late for the suppliers as the ‘Pro12’ logo was the on new jerseys.
Meanwhile, Ulster were never in with a chance of re-signing their marquee All Black star Charles Piutau who will move to English Championship side Bristol at the end of this season. It is believed Bristol came in with a near two-million pound deal over two seasons. Piutau also had the pull of playing under his former coach at the Auckland Blues Pat Lam, the former Connacht mentor.
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