Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Michael Leitch replaces Toshiaki Hirose as Japan captain


Japan have announced New Zealand born flanker Michael Leitch as their new captain. He will takeover from 32 year old wing Toshiaki Hirose who has led the team since 2012.

Leitch, 25 years old, is of Kiwi/Fijian heritage and will be the first foreign born player to captain the side since Andrew McCormick at the 1999 World Cup. However this time there is far more credence to his ability to lead the Japanese team.

Unlike some other overseas born players who have played for Japan, the flanker isn't someone who qualified via the club system. Leitch came to Japan aged 15 to study and has spent a decade in the country now and is very well integrated, speaking the language fluently and his Twitter feed full of Japanese characters. He also previously captained the Japan U20 team in 2008.

Along with that he is probably Japan's best forward and a certain pick when fit (provided the injuries haven't lessened him as a player), so there is some logic to awarding him the captaincy. However it will no doubt rile some members of the JRFU however who will not look happily on the idea of a New Zealand born player leading them.

The announcement will come as a rare bit of good news for Leitch who has had some rotten luck over the past year or so. He had an impressive World Cup, was hugely influential in Japan's fortunes throughout 2012 playing a key part in their win away to Georgia and earned a Super Rugby spot with the Chiefs on the back of that. However he had his time with the Chiefs wrecked by an arm injury, then he broke his leg in his first game back against Fiji and was ruled out for the rest of the year, then his proposed move to the Western Force never materialised. Japan have missed him and will be hoping he can recover the form he had prior to his serious leg injury.
(Video: Leitch was named man of the match in the disappointing World Cup loss against Tonga)

Former captain
Toshiaki Hirose
This news will put doubt on the place in the team for the former captain Toshiaki Hirose, who was appointed captain after 5 years out of the international arena. With such prospects emerging in the wing position through the likes of Yoshikazu Fujita and Kenki Fukuoka, the certainty of Hirose's starting position is not so assured, especially given he is now 32.

However it is too early to write Hirose off just yet, as Onozawa looks to be finished sadly and the former captain has a good rugby brain and has been praised for his communication with his teammates by Jones. There is still a decent chance he could make the World Cup squad, just he wasn't certain enough as a starter to be captain.

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