'To be able to play again is something I am really, really proud of'

After surviving leukaemia, Australia fly-half Christian Lealiifano is determined to make the most of his World Cup journey - and inspire others.

TOKYO, 7 Oct - Christian Lealiifano has revealed how he maintains his health and well-being as he attempts to steer the Australia to a third World Cup crown, just three years after he was found to have leukaemia. 

The Wallabies fly-half, above, who has started two of Australia's three Rugby World Cup 2019 matches, says accepting he cannot do everything is key to managing his body and mind at the tournament. 

"There will be days where I am too tired or a bit flat, where the training load has been too high," he said. "Then they'll manage me and lighten the load, just to freshen me up. That is something I have been really grateful for, to not just be put in and treated like everyone else."

In 2016, the playmaker for Super Rugby team the Brumbies was sent to the doctor for a check-up after complaining of tiredness.

Most people, including himself, put it down to being a father to a two-month-old son but a blood test revealed the chilling truth. Within 48 hours, he was having his first bout of chemotherapy and asking his sister for a bone marrow transplant. 

Lealiifano knows the fact he is in Japan, let alone playing a key role, is remarkable. 

"It's definitely something I don’t take for granted. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice and support from everyone: family, friends and team-mates. To be able to play again is something I am really, really proud of.

"Mindfulness and prayer every day for me is something that helps a lot and keeps me grounded and confident in knowing that I am here."

After returning to action for the Brumbies in 2017, Lealiifano spent five months playing for Irish province Ulster. It was an experience he described as a crucial "stepping stone" in proving he could "play at an elite level again".

A solid 2018 season back in Australia followed by a stunning start to 2019 was enough to convince Wallabies coach Michael Cheika it was time to bring the playmaker back into the international fold. 

" 'Cheik' spoke to me early on about being open with him and said the only person he will listen to is me," said Lealiifano. "He will never think I am taking a shortcut or anything.

"That is something I have been amazed and humbled by, that the team and medical staff have really taken that into account, really trusting (me) and going off my feedback."

The 32-year-old is on a nutrition plan to boost his weakened immune system and ensure he can survive the rigours of test match rugby. But the emotional support he receives, particularly from within the dressing room, is just as important. 

"Being able to open up and chat to the guys has been helpful, to be able to talk through my journey. I think some of them are a bit scared to ask sometimes but when they genuinely check in, you can explore and start to open up and let them know how you are feeling." 

He, too, has been quick to offer support, calling Tonga's Nasi Manu as soon as he heard the number eight was being treated for testicular cancer earlier this year.

"It's a bonus to get here," the Australian said. "And now it's about soaking it up, enjoying it and trying to be the best I can to try and inspire people."

RNS ln/sg/lm/ajr