The Pacific Nations Cup will kick off in a little over a month with Samoa, Tonga, Japan, Fiji, the United States and Canada all taking part in 2019.
Of course, like most tournaments around this time of year, the PNC is really a warm-up for 2019’s showcase event, the Rugby World Cup.
For World Cup host nation Japan, the PNC will be especially important, as the side has only one other test match scheduled in 2019 – against the Springboks.
Between Super Rugby commitments and World Cup training camps, it’s been a somewhat disjointed season for many of Japan’s representatives.
One player who hasn’t had to deal with as tough a schedule, however, is Brave Blossoms captain Michael Leitch.
Providing that Leitch is fully fit, Japan’s first match of the Pacific Nations Cup against Fiji on July 27 will mark over seven months since the New Zealand-born loose-forward last played a game of first-class rugby.
A chronic groin injury has ruled Leitch out of all rugby since Top League side Toshiba Brave Lupus’ last match of 2018. The Japanese captain only started training properly last week and has had consultations with specialists from throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Leitch recently spoke to Kyodo News about his impending return.
“I’ve got four games to get ready. That and my 10 years of experience,” Leitch said to the Japanese news outlet.
“I’m starting to come right at a good time and I’m looking at returning for that Fiji game and the PNC. Otherwise I’ll be a bit nervous coming into the World Cup with no games under my belt.”
Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph was adamant that Leitch would be a part of the World Cup squad even if he hadn’t played any matches prior to tournament kick-off and Joseph had to wait “until the night before or even an hour before the Russia game” to confirm Leitch’s fitness.
Japan will be looking to build into their season with PNC matches against Fiji, Tonga and the United States before taking on Russia in the opening match of the World Cup.
Their pool consists of Russia, Scotland, Ireland and Samoa. In order to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time in the nation’s history, Japan would likely have to notch up three wins from their four matches. That’s a distinctly doable challenge, given that Japan have beaten Russia and Samoa in the past and have come close to toppling Scotland and Ireland on a number of occasions. That being said, all four sides could also get the better of the World Cup hosts.
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