Commemorating the Opening of the Rugby World Cup: The Determination and Pride of Leach Michael of Japan’s National Team “Overcoming the Days of Hell | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Commemorating the Opening of the Rugby World Cup: The Determination and Pride of Leach Michael of Japan’s National Team “Overcoming the Days of Hell

To the 4th and culminating World Cup, no matter how many times the pain in the hip has not healed, "I hope they don't choose me anymore".

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The Urayasu training camp was held in June in extremely hot weather. Many of the players took off their training clothes to enjoy the feeling of freedom after completing a grueling menu, which many of them described as “the hardest I’ve ever had to work with.

Leach Michael (34), who captained Japan in the past two tournaments and will be playing in his fourth World Cup, was also named in the Japan squad for the Rugby World Cup in France, which was announced on August 15.

However, immediately after the announcement, Leach’s words were surprisingly tragic.

I was nervous until the last minute, wondering if I would be chosen,” he said, “so I was relieved. …… It’s a miracle for me. I had various injuries, went through hell, and worked hard to make it this far, which gives me a lot of confidence.”

Leach made his debut for Japan’s national team in 2008, when he was a sophomore at Tokai University, at the age of 20. Since then, he has participated in three consecutive World Cups, starting in 2011. In 2003, as captain, he led Japan to a historic victory over the powerful South African team, and in 2007, Japan became the first Asian country to reach the finals of a World Cup tournament. He also helped Japan, which had won only one of its seven tournaments prior to his captaincy, to a temporary world ranking of 6th.

However, the man who was instrumental in this triumph that sent Japan into a frenzy was having a difficult time after the ’19 World Cup. He had wounds all over his body, and despite numerous operations, he was unable to improve his condition. The most serious was a hip injury. Even after surgery, the pain did not stop, and he could not even practice.

There was a time when I thought about retiring from the national team. Jamie [Joseph, head coach] didn’t think very highly of me, and in the fall of ’21 I had to step down as captain. I was told, ‘Why don’t you play lock (instead of your natural position of flanker)?’ (I even wrote an email (to Jamie) saying, ‘Please don’t pick me to represent you anymore,’ and I was on the verge of sending it. It was hard to not live up to the expectations of those around me.”

What saved the “iron man” from rock bottom was his hard work, which is said to be “synonymous” with Japan’s national team breakthrough. By drastically increasing the amount of training for his lower body, which he had been saving, his original power was restored and his movements became sharp.

His performance gradually recovered. As his condition improved, he felt more refreshed, and the pain disappeared.

I had been avoiding lower-body training because of hip and knee pain. But when I braved the pain and did squats and increased the volume of my running, my body started to feel better. I didn’t want to use my age as an excuse, and I didn’t want to end up in bad shape. I wanted to finish in good shape. That was my first thought.”

When he came to Sapporo Yamanote High School from New Zealand at age 15, Leach was 178 cm tall and weighed 78 kg, “almost the same size as the first-year students around me.

From there, he drastically increased his food intake, eating eight slices of bread every night after dinner, and through rigorous training, he increased his size to over 100 kg by the time he graduated. Extraordinary ambition and execution are the starting point and quintessential essence of Leach as an athlete.

In his first test match of the season against Samoa at Sapporo Dome on July 22, he was sent off in the first half-hour after his shoulder hit an opponent in the head during a tackle. This was the first red card of his life. It was his first national team match in his second hometown, where he had spent his high school years, and Leach was very disappointed.

After the match, Leach said, “It wasn’t good for the team that I felt down. I should have stayed positive and not let it show on my face,” he said after the match.

Leach was suspended for three matches, but after applying to join the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Program, the international governing body, his suspension was reduced and he will be able to return to action against Italy on August 26, the last real match before the World Cup.

Without Leach, Japan swept 21-16 against Tonga on July 29, but lost 12-35 to Fiji on August 5. The team was forced to fight an unexpected battle with one less player due to a FW player leaving the field early in the first half, and they were unable to control their mental upheaval well. The return of Leach, who has overcome numerous adversities, should be a big plus.

The members of the team for the World Cup in France, which begins on September 8, were informed privately after the Fiji match. Some of the players who were not selected were there. Leach recalls.

I felt responsible when I saw the faces of those who had been eliminated. I felt I had to do my best, not only for the games, but also for the preparation for the future, to make up for them.

The experience of experiencing the bitterness of hitting rock bottom has made the indomitable man tougher than ever. Now in the best shape both mentally and physically, Leach will be playing in his fourth tournament, the culminating World Cup.

Leach at the All Blacks match on July 8. He has regained his ability to drag his opponents down.
Japan’s national team: Leach Michael’s determination and pride “Overcoming the days of hell” Leach (7th from left) when he was a student at Sapporo Yamanote High School. He was not much bigger than other high school students.
Unpublished photograph: “Determination and Pride of Leach Michael, Japan National Team, Overcoming the Days of Hell” Leach chatting with teammates at the Urayasu training camp in June.
Unpublished cut from the magazine “Japan National Team: Leach Michael’s Determination and Pride Overcoming the Days of Hell” Leach takes on the Samoan national team in Sapporo, where he spent his high school years. Leech passed the ball despite being knocked off his feet.
Japan national team’s Leach Michael’s determination and pride “Overcoming the days of hell” His calm smile is filled with confidence that he overcame hardships.

From the September 8, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Reporting and writing Mitsunobu Naoe (Sports Writer) Photo by Kaori Matsumoto

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