Japan can spring All Blacks shock, says captain Leitch

Michael Leitch (on left) is the captain of Japan’s national rugby team. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: Japan captain Michael Leitch said on Friday that the Brave Blossoms are capable of pulling off a shock victory over the mighty All Blacks this weekend.

The New Zealand-born skipper evoked the spirit of Japan’s astonishing 34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup on the eve of Saturday’s clash with the World Cup holders in Tokyo.

“When you look at the number of test matches collectively in the team, it’s not so much and their test match experience is not so much there,” said Leitch, pointing to a second-string All Blacks squad that includes eight new caps.

“There is an opportunity to pressure the leadership group. If we are going to take the All Blacks down, then it is going to be tomorrow.”

New Zealand have met Japan three times in the past, racking up a combined 282 points, including a World Cup record 145-17 demolition of the Brave Blossoms in 1995 – a match Japan coach Jamie Joseph played in for the All Blacks.

But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes from the team that beat Australia 37-20 in Yokohama last weekend, sending his big-hitters to Europe early to prepare for Tests against England, Ireland, and Italy.

His new-look squad has just 178 combined Tests between them and Leitch, believes Japan could take advantage.

The 30-year-old praised the influence of Joseph’s assistant John Plumtree, who has been helping the 2019 World Cup hosts as defence coach since last October.

“Plumtree has been excellent for us,” he said. “Him coming into the team has been fantastic… He’s one of the best defence coaches in the world.”

“The Japanese have always been a passive team,” added Leitch. “He is always telling us to get off the line and to pressure them with line speed so he has been great for us.”