The former Canada international is now in charge of the Sakura


Who is Lesley McKenzie: Ten things you should know about the Japan coach

Former Canada international Lesley McKenzie, who has played and coached rugby across the world, led Japan to historic success ahead of the 2022 Rugby World Cup.

Ten things you should know about Lesley McKenzie

1. Lesley McKenzie was born on 23 December 1980 in Fort Nelson, British Columbia.

2. She first played rugby at high school but, due to a shortage of players there, did not play an organised match until she enrolled at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

3. A hooker, she played for UBC for five years and also represented Canada at U23 level.

4. McKenzie made her Canada debut in 2004 against USA and would represent her country in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. She won 25 caps in all.

Lesley McKenzie coaching Japan

Lesley McKenzie ahead of a Japan international (Getty Images)

5. She played rugby in New Zealand ahead of RWC 2010 and would later serve as a girls’ development coordinator for the Wellington Rugby Football Union.

6. McKenzie believes New Zealand’s passion for rugby was key to her development as a coach. “Everyone knows something,” she told The Rugby Site. “You can learn something from anyone you meet at the checkout, at the grocery store or somebody at your rugby club.”

7. After three years as a development officer for the Wanganui Rugby Football Union, she was appointed as an assistant coach for Japan’s women’s sevens team in 2018.

8. Her stint in Japan’s sevens set-up was brief, as she became coach of the country’s women’s XVs side in January 2019.

She told Rugby World that she has a checklist for all the teams she coaches: honesty, bravery and joy.

9. McKenzie guided Japan to an unbeaten tour of Australia in May 2022. The three victories included a 12-10 win over the Wallaroos – Japan’s first win against an opponent ranked in the world’s top five.

The Sakura (cherry blossom), as the women’s team are known, followed up that tour success with drawn Test series on home soil against South Africa and Ireland ahead of the World Cup.

10. She is eager to set an example that future female coaches can follow. “It’s important that we have female coaches (that) aspiring players, ex-players and young coaches can model themselves after,” she told World Rugby in 2019.

“I know that’s really important, in part because it’s something that wasn’t prevalent when I was coming through as a player and then as a coach.”

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