Michael Leitch Recovery Saved Japan Rugby Team from Crisis | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Michael Leitch Recovery Saved Japan Rugby Team from Crisis

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Leitch pushes through his opponents to break through. He made his presence felt amid the large number of departures from the Japanese national team due to the COVID-19 crisis (Photo: AFRO)A number of members of the Japanese national rugby team have tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus. The team was facing a crisis before their second straight match against the world-ranked French national team. On the other hand, Michael Leitch is appealing his recovery. He had suffered from a series of injuries for a while, but he has improved following the example of his colleagues at his club.


Perhaps it is because the atmosphere in the stadium is now such that people are not afraid to cheer for him. When that man holds the ball, the fans sing in unison.


It was a popular chant among fans during the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. It has been a long time since it was revived after the viral plague.

On July 2 at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture, Japan’s national team took on France eight places above them in the world rankings, on a hot day with a maximum temperature of 35 degrees celsius in the vicinity.

The team’s main candidates, Shota Horie, Naoto Saito, Takuya Yamasawa, and Ryuji Noguchi, had all left the team by this day. The reason was that they tested positive for COVID-19. The registered members were not changed until the morning of the day before the match.


Even so, some of the players made their scheduled appearances and showed their strengths. One of them was Leitch.

Around seven minutes into the first half, he and a teammate made a strong double tackle in the right center of the 10-meter area. Another fellow got involved in the ball at that spot, increasing the sharpness of the next defense. The Japanese team eventually got a penalty kick.

Around the 21-minute mark at 10-10, Leitch was again involved in a double tackle and jackal combo. He escaped a pinch in front of his own goal.

In the next 33 minutes, he also won the ball back in an aerial lineout. In a circle, he inspired the group.

Although the team lost 23-42 in the end, they kept on running until the moment of no-side.

Due to team policy or a decision by the Japan Rugby Football Union, Leitch was not available for interviews on the day of the match. However, Leitch had been feeling good about his performance for some time.

“My physical condition is not bad.”

Looking back, he has struggled to get back into shape over the past few years.

In the 2019 World Cup in Japan, he struggled with a hip injury sustained just prior to the tournament. His performance in the first game against Russia was severely underrated, and he was omitted from the starting lineup in the following second game.

In the end, he made an appearance in the middle of the match, and the Irish team, ranked No. 2 in the world before the tournament and a favorite to win the tournament, beat the Irish team. However, it was not all smooth sailing for the team until they reached the top eight for the first time in their history.

In the fall, he stepped away from the captaincy he had held since 2014 for a total of four and a half years.


To the right of Leitch is Matt Todd. He has played for the Kingdom of New Zealand national team, but is a little smaller than Leitch (Photo: Afro).
He is 34 years old. As a soldier, he challenged the competition for the position of the third row forward. In his 74th game for the national team, against France, he showed a brilliant performance.The reason for this was a new habit.

In January of this year, he will take on the challenge of playing in the domestic league one as a member of the current Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, which he joined in 2011. They gradually improved their performance until they reached the top four in Japan for the first time since 2003, when they were in the old Top League.

The background. His colleague, Masataka Mikami, testifies.

Mikami has been a classmate of Leitch’s since their days at Tokai University, where they both represented Japan at the World Cup in England in 2015, winning a historic three matches.

The old friend, who prefaces his comment about Leitch by saying, “I don’t know if that’s the reason for his good form,” reveals what happened during practice, which was closed to the public due to infection control.

“I’ve been working with Matt Todd on fitness and contact exercises in addition to general practice.”

Todd, 34, plays the same flanker position as Leitch. He has represented the rugby Kingdom of New Zealand in 25 national matches.

At 185 centimeters tall and 104 kilograms, he is 4 centimeters and 9 kilograms shorter than Leitch, respectively. However, he stands out for his strength and athleticism when involved with the ball on the ground, and his tenacity when grabbed by opponents.

Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo head coach Todd Blackadder believes that this talent, who is less physically gifted than Leitch but has risen to the world’s top class, “He’s a role model. I always watch and learn from him,” said Leitch. He is a mentor, so to speak. Especially from the middle of the season onward, he has accompanied Todd to practice on his own, just as Mikami said he would.

In preparation for games on Saturdays and Sundays, Todd’s style is to do “conditioning” in the first half of the week, which raises his heart rate. Leitch followed this routine, partly because his own injury had healed.

Eventually, when asked about the reason for his good performance, he replied, “I think the amount of practice I’ve been doing has increased,” and even at the Japan national team’s training camp in Miyazaki, which began on June 3, he was able to positively challenge himself to multiple tough sessions a day.

Todd was also impressed by his generation of Japanese national team players.

“It’s great to see a player like Leitch, who is world class, yet so humble and hardworking,” Todd said. “To begin with, the players in the Brave Lupus team have a strong sense of commitment to each other.”

Leitch, who has roots in Fiji and New Zealand, first came to Japan at the age of 15. While at Sapporo Yamanote High School, he practiced steady basic repetitions, which is rare in his native New Zealand.

Perhaps it is in his nature, at least as an athlete, to try to overcome difficult situations.

“I’m getting older, and there are more and more young people around me. I want to do my best from the smallest things so that I don’t lose. First of all, it is important to focus on myself and qualify for the national team. It’s not good to be on the team just for experience.”

His sights are set on the 2023 World Cup in France. The veteran, who has never stopped being diligent, is aiming for his fourth trip to the big stage.

Young players are emerging, but next year’s World Cup will also rely on Leitch and Keita Inagaki (right), who changed history at the 2015 World Cup (Photo: AFLO)
  • Interview and text by Kazuya Mukai

    Sportswriter Born in 1982 in Toyama Prefecture. Graduated from Seijo University, Faculty of Arts and Letters, Department of Fine Arts, and has been working as a sports writer since 2006. He has been working as a sportswriter since 2006, mainly covering rugby. He is the author of "Sunwolves no Chosen, Super Rugby: Tsuyouru Wolves no Kiroku" (Sunwolves' Challenge: Record of Super Rugby Wolves) published by Futabasha.

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