From a modest upbringing in Christchurch to hero status in Japan, Michael Leitch has had quite the rugby journey

There is a statue of Michael Leitch in a public park in Tokyo, such is his popularity and importance to Japanese rugby.

But how did a young man from northeast Christchurch become a hero in another country?

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Here, as he leads Japan into his fourth World Cup, are a few things you need to know about the talismanic captain of the Brave Blossoms.

Ten things you should know about Japan back row Michael Leitch

1. Michael Leitch was born in Burwood, a north-eastern suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand on October 7, 1988. He went to Japan as a 15-year-old as part of a school exchange programme. And – after finishing school – he went to Tokai University, in Tokyo.

2. Leitch became a Japanese national in 2013. At the same time, he officially inverted his name in Japanese to follow the country’s convention of surname, firstname.

3. He was called up to the Japan under-20 team for the 2008 Junior World Championship while attending Tokai, and made his senior international debut the same year, against USA in Nagoya. 

4. He scored his first senior international try against Kazakhstan in April 2009.

5. Leitch joined Japanese Top League side Toshiba Brave Lupus, after an impressive first World Cup outing in 2011. In the tournament, he was named Player of the Match against Tonga.

6. He was named the league’s ‘Revelation of the Season’ at the end of his first year with Toshiba Brave Lupus. And he was named in the team of the season at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.

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7. A broken arm put paid to a stint in Super Rugby with New Zealand-based Chiefs in 2013. And, he broke his leg playing for Japan in June that year, in his first match back. He finally got to play for Chiefs in 2015, going on to make 34 appearances in two seasons. He returned to Japan in 2018 to join Japanese Super Rugby side Sunwolves.

8. Eddie Jones named Leitch as Japan captain in April 2014 – a role he held first under Jones and then Jamie Joseph. He was the second New Zealand-born player to lead the Brave Blossoms, after Andrew McCormick in the 1990s.

9. He captained Japan in their most famous Rugby World Cup victories – against South Africa in Brighton in 2015; and against Ireland in Fukuroi, and Scotland in Yokohama in 2019.

10. There is a statue of him in one of the communal parks in Tokyo. During the 2019 World Cup it was a popular place for fans to have their photos taken.

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