Rikako Ikegae also gave a shout out to …… Rugby Japan’s national team will be challenged by Samoa’s national team commander, a man who has recovered from leukemia. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Rikako Ikegae also gave a shout out to …… Rugby Japan’s national team will be challenged by Samoa’s national team commander, a man who has recovered from leukemia.

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Christian Lialifano, 36, is the commander of the Samoan national team. About seven years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia in Japan. The thinning of his hair on his head is said to be a sign of his battle with the disease (Photo: Afro).

The Rugby World Cup is being held in France. On September 28, the Japanese national rugby team, which has lost one game to England, will clash with Samoa in its third “can’t-lose” game (scheduled to kick off at 4 a.m. on September 29 in Japan). The third match, which they cannot afford to lose, will be a clash with the Samoan national team. Christian Lialifano (36), the leader of the Samoan team, is known on the international sports scene as a “miracle rugger” who has recovered from leukemia, also known as “blood cancer.

Born in New Zealand, the sixth of seven siblings to Samoan parents, he moved with his family to Australia at the age of six, where he continued to compete. After overcoming the sudden death of his father, Tevita, he represented Australia U-19 in international tournaments, and in 2006 he signed a contract with the prestigious Brumbies, where he continued his career. He was selected for the first time for the Australian national team, known as the “Wallabies,” in 2001.

He missed the World Cup in 2003, but in 2004, his first son was born. He started to feel very tired around that time. In the same year, he was selected to join Suntory Sangorias, but when he underwent a thorough examination in August, leukemia was discovered.

Suntory gave me great support during my illness, such as giving me team goods. I am now playing with a sense of gratitude.”

During the course of chemotherapy and other treatments, he lost more than 10 kg, but he was able to receive a bone marrow transplant from his younger sister, Sally, due to a one-in-four match in HLA (white blood cell type) between the two siblings. He still takes off his head cap when he kicks a placekick, but he says the thinning hair on his head is a sign of his battle with the disease.

Eleven months later, he made a successful return as a top player and played for Ulster in Ireland, where he moved on a short contract.’ He returned to Australia again in 2006 and led the Brumbies team as captain. He then went on to play for the Toyota Industries Shuttles in Japan.

When he came to Japan as a member of the Brumbies in June ’19, as an athlete who overcame leukemia, he said to Rikako Ikee, a swimmer who was suffering from the same disease at the time, “The support of the people around me motivated me during my battle with the disease. (I hope (Rikako) Ikee will continue to be strong. I want her to stay strong and rely on the support of those around her because she was helped by them.

In Japan in 2007, Ikee made his first appearance in the World Cup, which he had longed for, as a member of the Wallabies, saying, “I always thought about playing in the World Cup. After the tournament, he returned to Japan to play for the NTT Communications Shining Arcs, saying, “It is always special to come back to Japan.” He was also involved in educational activities, such as participating in the “deleteC” action to support cancer treatment research and holding a TV interview with Ikegami.

Then a turning point came for Learifano.’ In 2010, World Rugby, the governing body of rugby around the world, created a new rule that allowed players whose parents or grandparents had originated outside of their own country to change their national team status to that of their parents or grandparents if they had not been called up from their original team for at least three years. This opens up the opportunity for a player to represent his or her Samoan roots.

Lialifano, who boasts 26 caps for the Wallabies, played for the Moana Pacifica in 2010, a team of players from Samoa and Tonga, and led the team as an experienced international player, becoming the first Islander to score 1000 points in Super Rugby. He was the first Islander player to score 1,000 points in Super Rugby. In 2011, three years after representing Australia, he was selected to represent his parents’ homeland, Samoa.

In a Samoan national team that has many players with little experience in high-intensity matches, Lialifano says, “I use my experience and knowledge to pass on to the younger players professionalism, for example, the need for daily preparation as well as the moment-to-moment of a match, and how to spend match days.

And in July, Lialifano, wearing No. 10, earned his first cap for Samoa in a match against Japan.

It’s a very hard feeling to put into words, but it’s a very special feeling. It is an honor to play for Samoa because I am representing my family and my people. I want to thank World Rugby for giving me the opportunity to come back and play for my country. This rule change is changing and strengthening rugby around the world.”

The tattoo on his arm is the name of his late father, Tevita. And every game, he writes “Dad” and “Mom” on his wrist taping, and after his son was born, he also wrote the name of his son Jeremy, saying, “I inherited it and became a father.

”It’s really special to represent your country, to represent your family, and to play in the World Cup is never taken for granted.” ‘It’s been a fun 19 years, but I’m at home [representing Samoa] now. I am proud to play for Samoa.”

The leukemia survivor is enjoying his second World Cup wholeheartedly for his family and for his homeland as the commanding leader of “Manu Samoa”.

  • Interview and text by Takehito Saito

    Born in 1975. Sports writer who covers and writes for magazines and websites, focusing on rugby and soccer. He has covered the World Cup for five consecutive years until the 2019 tournament. He covered all 57 matches of the last World Cup, when Japan was coached by Eddie Jones. His recent books include "Rugby Language Dictionary" (Seibundo Shinkosha) and "Rugby Spectator's Guide" (Kairyusha). In his high school days, he played FB with a strong tackling ability.

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