Underdogs no more: Japan looks toward 2023 Rugby World Cup

May 11, 2022

Michael Leitch led Japan to key victories at the last two rugby World Cups. The next World Cup is in 2023 in France, and Leitch has a message: Don't overlook Japan.

In 2015, Japan defeated South Africa in the English seaside town of Brighton, which lives on as the "Brighton Miracle." In 2019, its group-stage wins over Ireland and Scotland carried it to the quarterfinals and brought rugby into the daylight in Japan.

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Leitch is no longer the captain but is still a player and a key member of the team. He looks forward to the tournament where Japan is drawn in group D with England, Argentina, Samoa and one other qualifier.

The underdog tag doesn't rankle Leitch -- nor does he see it as appropriate.

"I think Japan is quite unique because I think we're everyone's second favorite team," Leitch told reporters this week, speaking for Tokyo. "We still are regarded as an underdog despite having had two successful World Cup campaigns. It's a hard one to brush off."

"Subconsciously when you think of Japan your automatic thought process is not a big, physical side that's going to dominate teams," he added.