Michael Leitch

Michael Leitch (リーチ マイケル, Rīchi Maikeru, born 7 October 1988, né Michael Geoffrey Leitch) is a Japanese rugby union player who plays in the back row for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby and captains the Japan national team. Leitch was born in New Zealand and moved to Japan as a teenager.

Michael Leitch
リーチ マイケル
Birth nameMichael Geoffrey Leitch
Date of birth (1988-10-07) 7 October 1988
Place of birthBurwood, Christchurch, New Zealand
Height189 cm (6 ft 2 in)
Weight105 kg (231 lb)
SchoolSapporo Yamanote High School
UniversityTokai University
Rugby union career
Position(s) Flanker, Number 8
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
2011– Toshiba Brave Lupus 69 (100)
Correct as of 15 January 2017
Super Rugby
Years Team Apps (Points)
2013, 2015–2017 Chiefs 30 (30)
2018- Sunwolves ()
Correct as of 6 May 2017
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
2008– Japan 63 (95)
Correct as of 15 September 2019
National sevens team(s)
Years Team Comps

Early life

Leitch was born in Burwood, Christchurch, New Zealand,[1] to a European New Zealander father and a Fijian mother. He was raised in Christchurch where he attended St Bede's College.[1] In 2004, at the age of 15, he went to Sapporo Yamanote High School in Sapporo, Japan, as part of St Bede's school exchange program.[1][2]

After finishing school he attended Tokai University and in 2008 captained the Japan U20 team at the Junior World Championship. He became a Japanese citizen in 2013[3][4] and officially inverted his name in Japanese from Michael Leitch to Leitch Michael.

Professional career

He made his test match debut for Japan in 2008 against the USA in Nagoya aged 20, receiving a yellow card in that game for a dangerous tackle. He quickly established himself as a regular member of the national side. His first try came against Kazakhstan in April 2009.[5]

He impressed in the 2011 Rugby World Cup and was praised as one of Japan's best forwards,[6] winning 'man of the match' in the loss to Tonga,[7] where he scored a try and made a try-saving tackle on Siale Piutau.[8] After the World Cup he joined the Toshiba Brave Lupus in the Top League. In his first season he was named in the league's team of the season and given the award of "revelation of the season" at the end of the season awards.[9] He followed this up by being named in the team of the season for a second season in 2012/2013.[10]

He moved back to New Zealand after being named in the Hamilton-based Chiefs wider training squad for 2013,[11] but was denied the chance to play after breaking an arm. In his first match back from injury, playing for Japan against Fiji in June, he broke a leg. He got a second chance with the Chiefs, signing a contract with the side for the 2015 Super Rugby season.[12]

He was appointed Japan captain by coach Eddie Jones in April 2014, becoming the second New Zealand-born player to lead the Brave Blossoms after Andrew McCormick in the 1990s.[5]

For the 2018 season, Leitch moved to the Sunwolves, the Japanese Super Rugby team.

He is the current captain of the Japan national team and led them to "the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history" as part of the team that defeated South Africa in 2015.[13] Japan achieved a similar feat under Leitch's leadership in the 2019 World Cup as hosts, when they beat Ireland, ranked second in the world at that time, 19-12.[14] Also in the 2019 World Cup Japan defeated Scotland to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time ever.[15]

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


  1. "Profile". michaelleitch.com. Michael Leitch. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  2. "How 'shy boy' Leitch was moulded into a leader at Yamanote High". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  3. Ishida, Kakuya (20 July 2019). "National team united regardless of birthplace". The Japan News. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  4. "Win or lose, Japan will be fast and furious, says captain Leitch". Rugby World Cup 2015. World Rugby. 11 August 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  5. "Michael Leitch". Japan Rugby Club. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  6. "Limelight too bright for rising star Leitch".
  7. "Tonga take control to eliminate Japan". Archived from the original on 7 February 2012.
  8. "Michael Leitch performance vs Tonga 2011".
  9. "Le XV type de Top League 2011/2012".
  10. "Le XV type de Top League 2012/2013".
  11. "Chiefs' search for talent extends to Japan". 10 December 2012.
  12. "Dave Rennie on the hunt for another halfback". Waikato Times. Fairfax NZ. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  13. "Match report highlights: South Africa 32-34 Japan". ITV. 19 September 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  14. "Japan 19-12 Ireland: Dazzling display gives hosts shock victory". 28 September 2019. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  15. "History as Japan beat Scotland in epic to set up quarter-final showdown with the Springboks". 13 October 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
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