It’s been over seven months since Michael Leitch last played a match of rugby. On Saturday, he’ll finally suit up after spending the rest of the season watching on from the sidelines, recovering from a chronic groin injury.
On Saturday Japan will play host to Fiji in the first round of the Pacific Nations Cup. Fiji have named a strong line-up, after giving most of their squad game-time over the last two weeks against the Maori All Blacks.
Japan head coach Jaime Joseph has named debutant Pieter Labuschagne as captain for the tantalising clash. Labuschagne will be joined by Kazuki Himeno and Amanaki Mafi in the backrow, creating a powerful trio. Leitch will be poised to come off the bench later in the match.
Lock James Moore will also be playing his first test match for the Brave Blossoms and will partner experienced campaigner Luke Thompson. Thompson is the 7th most capped Japanese representative of all time, with 64 caps to his name.
In the front row, Shota Horie will pack down at hooker and will be sandwiched by Keita Inagaki and Asaeli Ai Valu. All three front rowers have represented the Sunwolves as well as Robbie Dean’s Panasonic Wild Knights.
In the backs, the well-travelled pairing of Kaito Shigeno and Yu Tamura will be expected to guide proceedings in the halves. Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele will resume their midfield partnership which reaped plenty of reward during last season’s end of year internationals.
30-cap outside back Kotaro Matsushima has made few appearances for Japan in recent seasons but will return on the right wing. He will combine with Kenki Fukuoka and Will Tupuo.
“We are fit and ready to go,” said Joseph of his team.
“Fiji have really improved in lots of areas. They still love their unstructured rugby and are really dangerous and threatening from broken play and they are full of athletes who can all offload.”
Japan will conclude their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with fixtures against Tonga and the USA.