Michael Leitch has led Japan to significant victories in the past two Rugby World Cups. With the next Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, Leitch has a message: don’t ignore Japan. In 2015, Japan defeated South Africa in the British seaside town of Brighton to becoming the “Brighton Miracle”. Rugby World Cup Fans can buy Rugby World Cup 2023 Tickets from our website.
In 2019, it defeated Ireland and Scotland in the group stage, reached the quarter-finals, and took rugby to Japan.
Leitch is no longer captain but remains a player and an important member of the team. He is looking forward to drawing Japan into Group D with England, Argentina, Samoa, and another qualifier. The underdog label doesn’t anger Leitch and he doesn’t think it’s suitable either.
“I think Japan is very unique because I think we are everyone’s second favorite team,” Leitch told reporters in Tokyo this week. “We are still considered underdogs, it’s hard to get rid of them despite our two World Cup successes.”
“Physical aspect that will dominate the team when you subconsciously think of Japan. Your automatic thought process is not one big,” he added.
Leitch said it was tough to assess Japan’s position in the World Cup preparations compared to the preparations for the 2019 World Cup. As Japan prepared to host the World Championships at home for the first time, a sense of urgency and purpose drove the movement.
In the years since Japan has not played out in the same way. COVID-19 has closed international borders and Japan has not held a test match for 18 months. The ability to attract new players is limited, but Leitch believes things are developing.
“In 2019, with home benefit, everyone is counting on us to develop Japanese rugby. The club does not hesitate to release anyone we have a lot of resources and time away from the club,” he said.
“This time it’s a little different with COVID but we’ve made incredible progress with our time together, it’s really hard to measure our readiness” he added.
Leitch says Japan can have confidence in players who may participate in the World Cup. Many already have World Cup experience and young players have the opportunity to play alongside or against some of the world’s best players in the burgeoning Japanese professional league.
“I think the knowledge and experience we have in 2023 will be crucial. I would say we had quite a few core players in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, most of them in 2019,” Leitch said.
Japan’s image is that it relies more on speed than physical strength, but Leitch said that is changing.
“Everyone portrays Japan as someone who doesn’t have much of a physical advantage. But we’ve shown in the past that we can go above our weight,” he said. “For us, it’s about being smarter, choosing our moments, and finding the right areas. It’s not about being physically stronger or faster than the opponent”.
“We are tactically very flexible, one of the strengths of the Japanese team is that. There is no doubt that the tactics will change with each opponent. I would not worry about our fitness or lack of combat effectiveness in any game.”