WALLABIES RECALL FOR CHRISTIAN LEALIIFANO
It may have been the feelgood story of the first Wallabies team announcement of the year but statistics show Christian Lealiifano's recall to the national squad is based firmly on his Super Rugby form.
Brumbies flyhalf Lealiifano has not played for the Wallabies since 2016, the year he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
His remarkable fightback to full health and return to elite sport is an incredible tale of inspiration.
While Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is among those to marvel at his journey over the past three years, he said his selection had been purely on form.
Statistics from the Super Rugby season show Lealiifano is the leading flyhalf in several categories, including effective tackles and ground gained per run.
He has won a spot in Cheika's 34-man squad to tour South Africa ahead of the first Rugby Championship match of the season against the Springboks in Johannesburg and will compete with Bernard Foley and Matt To'omua for the no.10 jersey and ultimately, a place in the World Cup squad.
"I'm not the expert to speak on what he's been through because only he knows that and his family," Cheika said.
"I had an opportunity maybe a year or so ago, before this season, to speak at length about a lot of things from the last World Cup selection (that he missed out on) to what's happening now and how I see him, from a coaching point of view.
"And what you can't deny is his form in Super Rugby.
"Take out all the other things - and obviously we know what he's achieved in his life - just take all that away and you look at the form and he's been playing good. And he deserves to be there."
While Lealiifano has not played a Test since 2016, when he was named on the bench for all three of the Wallabies' games against England, stats from this season back up Cheika's view.
Rugby Australia's workload management policy means each of the candidates has been involved in a different number of games, with Lealiifano and Quade Cooper not required to be rotated during the season.
Given the Brumbies push to the semi-finals, Lealiifano played 18 games, while Cooper played 16 as the Rebels bowed out before the playoffs and Waratahs playmaker Foley appeared in 14 games.
To'omua played five Super Rugby games for the Rebels after returning from England where he had been playing for Leicester in Premiership Rugby and with Cooper steering the ship at no.10, he was often in the centres, making a direct statistical comparison with the others difficult.
Lealiifano's return to career-best form is backed up by the numbers though, with the 31-year-old making 7.8m per run this season and 83 per cent of his tackles, compared to 5m and 71 per cent for Cooper and 6.6m and 74 per cent for Foley.
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