Mako Vunipola Rugby Championship 2019: Leukaemia survivor Christian Lealiifano recalled to Australia squad

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ACT Brumbies captain and cancer survivor Christian Lealiifano has been recalled to the Wallabies squad for the first time in three years, beating out flyhalf Quade Cooper for the first Rugby Championship test against South Africa.

Lealiifano’s inclusion in the 34-man squad released on Thursday follows a strong season with the Canberra-based Super Rugby team and caps his brave comeback from a battle with leukaemia after his 2016 diagnosis.

The squad, the first picked by the newly minted selection panel of coach Michael Cheika, Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor, includes three potential debutants in loose forwards Isi Naisarani, Liam Wright and Rob Valetini.

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It also features a number of notable omissions, including 71-test scrumhalf Nick Phipps, a long-time Cheika favourite, and his team mate at the New South Wales Waratahs, flanker Ned Hanigan.

The panel has opted for Joe Powell and the returning Nic White as the understudies to regular scrumhalf Will Genia, with the versatile Matt Toomua and Lealiifano the likely backups for flyhalf Bernard Foley.

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“I’m not the expert to speak on what Christian has been through, only he knows that and his family,” Cheika said in a statement.

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