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Michael Leitch ready to lead Japan into another rugby ‘revolution’

By Jon Newcombe
Jones can still rely on the inspirational Michael Leitch, 17 years on from his Test debut (Photo Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Michael Leitch is looking forward to leading the Brave Blossoms into a new era of ‘Chosoku’ rugby, starting with this Saturday’s eagerly awaited match with England in Tokyo, which is live and exclusive on RPTV.

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Blindside Leitch will captain Japan for the 37th time in his 85th test appearance having not worn the armband since Japan lost 39-31 to Ireland in July 2021.

He led Japan for the majority of Eddie Jones’ first spell with the Brave Blossoms and it was his brave call to go for a scrum penalty rather than kick for goal, that proved pivotal in Japan pulling off the greatest shock in Rugby World Cup history.

Leitch, how in his 16th year of Test rugby, was rewarded for that decision when Karne Hesketh scored to hand Japan a famous 34-32 win against the Springboks in Brighton in 2015, and four years later he led the team into the quarter-finals for the first time with victory against Scotland.

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Unable to reproduce the sort of thrilling rugby that they’d become renowned for, Japan failed to make it beyond the pool stages at last year’s tournament in France.

But Jones is determined to restore Japan’s reputation for playing a high-tempo game, branded ‘Chosoku’ rugby and take the concept even further, so that quick ball movement and positive intent is seen in every facet of their play.

Leitch, for one, cannot wait to put it out there on the park.

“I am very much looking forward to the England game. Our team is very young and full of energy, and we have wonderful coaching staff and have had fulfilling 10 days in Miyazaki camp with them,” he said.

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“This is our first opportunity to challenge (the opposition) with our ‘Chosoku’ (super-fast) Rugby. I hope we can make a good challenge and show the Japan brand of rugby.

“This is an opportunity for us to play with our ‘Chosoku’ rugby against a strong side. The game has 80 minutes, where control (of the game) is important, and I would like to set my focus on to that.

“You have to win at breakdowns or you cannot play ‘Chosoku’ rugby. We have plans and will work hard.”

As Jones has highlighted in the past, playing fast is about not only moving fast but thinking fast, too. And while Leitch is facing a battle with old father time to make it to a record-equalling fifth Rugby World Cup in 2027, the 36-year-old looked sharp during Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo’s League One title-winning campaign.

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“When I was told (about the captaincy), I thought I wanted to take it. I would like to work alongside Eddie to build new ‘Chosoku’ rugby and make a revolution together with Eddie,” he said.

“Of course, I am feeling the responsibility and feeling proud of serving as captain. I have desires to win with this team and that desire for winning a game is strongest. We have prepared for winning and are ready for that. We are confident.”

 

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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