Japan can break into world’s top 4 under Jones: Leitch

Former Japan captain Michael Leitch voiced his excitement Monday about working with Eddie Jones again and challenging the world’s top rugby teams.

“We just don’t stop moving the ball and we are looking to play the world’s most exciting rugby,” Leitch said in Miyazaki, where the Brave Blossoms are having their first training camp since Jones returned to the head coach’s role. “I believe we have a chance to break into the (world’s) top four.”

Michael Leitch (R) runs with the ball during Japan rugby training in Miyazaki on June 10, 2024. (Kyodo)

Jones has said he is prepared to create a “super-fast” brand of Japanese rugby.

In his previous stint as head coach, then perennial underdogs Japan turned months of hard training in Miyazaki into three wins at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, including a stunning victory over South Africa.

“Unlike a hell-like 2015, it’s a lot of fun now,” Leitch said, recalling the training in the run-up to Japan’s breakthrough World Cup. The 35-year-old veteran is expected to make the transition from the back row to lock.

On June 22, Japan will play England at Tokyo’s 68,000-seat National Stadium.

Japan rugby head coach Eddie Jones (front L) gives instructions to players during training in Miyazaki on June 10, 2024. (Kyodo)

“We’re starting to practice how we wanna play,” Jones said. “I find the players are learning very quickly. Today was the first time we put physical pressure on the players. I find their desire to want to get better is absolutely first class.”

“As you know, we’re at a bit of a turning point for Japanese rugby. There’s a lot of responsibility in developing the next generation of players for Japan and certainly I’m enjoying the task of doing it.”

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Rugby: Shota Horie brings down curtain on storied career with no regrets

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