Four years ago Japan shocked the world by defeating South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in Brighton.
That 34-32 victory over the Springboks put Japanese rugby on the map and since then the nation has been on an upward trajectory when it comes to Rugby Union.
Michael Leitch led the Cherry Blossoms to that victory over South Africa four years ago, scoring a try in the process. With the teams set to clash again in this weekend’s quarter-final, Leitch is looking forward to hopefully replicating that famous victory in front of a vocal home crowd at Tokyo Stadium.
“The world was shocked and became aware of Japan with that game four years ago, and the game still lives in the memories of Japanese fans too.
“This time we have the chance to show them live. It’s more about how much we can show our strength rather than who the opposition are. It’s a good thing people in Japan can watch it first hand.”
Japan have been the undoubted stars of the show so far. Four wins from four in Pool A including two huge upset wins over Ireland and Scotland have set them up for Sunday’s crunch clash with the Springboks.
It may be their first-ever quarter-final but it’s not the first time they’ve excelled at a World Cup. Following that win over South Africa in 2015, Japan won two more Test matches but fell agonisingly short thus becoming the first team in history to win three Test matches and not qualify for the knockout stages.
Leitch is adamant, however, that the Japan squad’s mentality has changed drastically since 2015
“Four years ago Japan had won one World Cup test match in 20 odd years so it was a different mentality going into the World Cup.
“We’ve managed to win three (in 2015) so now the team’s mentality is different, we’re going to test matches thinking and believing we can win if we do our jobs properly. So one thing that’s different in my mind is the mentality of players.”
According to Leitch, Japan’s motivation comes from getting a chance to showcase Rugby Union to their people with each passing game while also supporting the victims of Typhoon Hagibis through their actions on the field.
“Not being satisfied. The end is not here. We’ll play in the last eight and have another chance to show our game to our people. Each of us are playing to have more of that opportunity.
“South Africa look really scary at the start of the week, but we begin to feel really excited as we understand the game and think about how to break them down. That fear gradually fades and confidence rises.”
“Messages through our actions will mean much more than any words. I hope they enjoy all of our play.”