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'Our intention is to win World Cup' - Leitch

By Ian Cameron
Michael Leitch (L) of Japan's national rugby team attends a training session in Urayasu, east of Tokyo on June 29, 2023. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan captain Michael Leitch says he believes Japan can win the Rugby World Cup and that is aim of his side as they enter the tournament in France.

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Japan shocked the rugby world in 2015 when they overturned South Africa in the pool stages of the tournament and four years later in 2019, on home soil, the Brave Blossoms shocked both Ireland and Scotland before falling against South Africa in the quarterfinals.

Their run into this World Cup has been on the underwhelming side, with losses against Samoa and Fiji in their Rugby World Cup warm-ups, although they did register a win over Tonga.

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But Leitch – who was speaking in Toulouse alongside fellow back row Lappies Labuschagné at Japan’s Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Welcome Ceremony on Sunday in Toulouse – remains optimistic about what his side can do at the tournament.

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When asked whether Japan can repeat their quarter-final place at Rugby World Cup 2019, Leitch said: “Do the same but better. We’re looking at winning the World Cup. Anything can happen, red cards can happen, so our focus is on playing against Chile, England, Samoa, then Argentina and see who we face after that. Our intention is to win the World Cup.

“The pool stages will be really important for us, we want to do really well. From there, we’ll take it match by match and want to go all the way obviously. But, for now, get through the pool stages and see if we can get some good performances on the field.”

Regardless of how they do, Japan have come a long way since conceding a record 145 points to the All Blacks in 1995, and can go into the tournament with some confidence.

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“Looking back, since 2011 this team has grown so much, it’s scary … we’ve now made history but what’s ahead of us is important. This (a quarter-final) is not the goal. Winning the next game is the goal. Win the next, then the next. What’s important is winning the game in front of us. We want to make even more history for Japan.”

“Since we’ve set foot in France, you can feel the buzz, the excitement. As a team, we’re excited and looking forward to the tournament – there’s a lot to be excited about.”

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Comments

2 Comments
M
Michael 290 days ago

It's not inconceivable that Japan could win those 3 games, Chile, England and Samoa. Argentina I don't think so.. though.

T
Thomas 290 days ago

Ambitious, if a tad oblivious.

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Flankly 16 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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