Japanese captain Michael Leitch worried about future of rugby in Japan
The third-line and captain of the Brave Blossoms deplores that rugby has not changed in dimension in the land of the Rising Sun after the success of the last World Cup.
At the last World Cup in Japan, the “Brave Blossoms” were the sensation of the competition, dominating Ireland and then Scotland in the group stage. Qualified for the first time in their history for the quarter-finals, they lost against the Sporingboks, future world champions. The question now was whether rugby – a sport that lives in the shadow of baseball and football – would be able to ride this popular and sporting success to change its dimension. Almost six months after the World Cup, the oval ball does not seem to have caught the right rebound.
Japanese captain Michael Leitch (31) recalls that “to get there (at the World Cup) it took a lot of work, four years of hard work, and we did it for a short time”, he told Reuters. “Doing the same thing again would be a very complicated process. If that were to happen, we would have to change the way the Top League works (the Japanese league, note) and have certain moments when the national team can get together and train. ” For the last World Cup organized on their lands, the Japanese internationals were able, exceptionally, to prepare for… 9 months!
“But for the moment, it’s a bit – I wouldn’t say disorganized – but let’s say that we are not focused on the Japanese team at the moment.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, test matches against New Zealand, England and Ireland could fall through. “If we no longer have the opportunity to play these kinds of matches, we could then start playing only against third countries (equivalent to the second world division, editor’s note),” said the Japanese captain. “We have a lot of pressure on our shoulders to continue to play well and to be competitive against these leading nations.”
“Super Rugby was a great tool for us to develop good players. I don’t know how we are going to develop good Japanese players “
In its development drive, Japanese rugby must also contend with the fact that the Sunwolves franchise is no longer part of Super Rugby, the flagship competition for clubs in the southern hemisphere. “It’s very disappointing,” said Leitch. It was a great tool for us to develop good players. And we won’t be part of it next year … I don’t know how we’re going to develop good Japanese players. ” The Top League will soon change format. And, after the last World Cup, there was a new massive influx of stars from the oval planet. Kieran Read and Will Genia joining Dan Carter and Matt Giteau, already present in the archipelago.
“It’s great that a lot of international players are playing in our Top League, but if we look five years ahead, we have to start training good Japanese players,” said the third line of the Brave Blossoms. I don’t want to see Japanese rugby having a league without Japanese players or a national team without Japanese players. There has to be a way to promote Japanese rugby players and I think this is the next step we have to take. ”
Michael Leitch future director of JRFU
The hypothesis that Japan could join the Six Nations Tournament or the Rugby Championship was raised, without success. Born in New Zealand and arrived in Japan at the age of 15, Michael Leitch intends to continue, in the long term, to invest in his adopted country. In 2015, he launched his own cafe in Tokyo. And he would see himself “perhaps becoming a leader” of Japanese rugby. “I have a real passion for Japanese rugby and I can use my English and Japanese to communicate with the different federations. I now need to have a business background, so I hope this cafe will start making money. My heart is sincere when I say that I want to help improve Japanese rugby, so if it means starting at the top, or some other way, then I would be happy to do so. ”