Japan skipper Michael Leitch promises side's best-ever Rugby World Cup

Japan's prop Koo Ji-won
Japan's prop Koo Ji-won and his team-mates are under intense scrutiny
2019 Rugby World Cup: Japan v Russia
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo Date: Friday, 20 September Kick-off: 11:45 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app. Live on ITV.

Captain Michael Leitch says Japan are ready to inspire the host nation as they prepare to take on Russia in Friday's Rugby World Cup opener.

Japan beat South Africa, Samoa and the United States in the 2015 tournament, narrowly missing out on the last eight.

"We've got the opportunity to inspire Japan again. We've trained well, prepared well and this will be Japan's best World Cup ever," said Leitch, 30.

Wing Kenki Fukuoka and back row Amanaki Mafi will miss the match for Japan.

Both picked up injuries in the heavy defeat by South Africa earlier this month, with Fukuoka, scorer of 21 tries in 34 Tests, suffering a calf injury and Mafi hurting his shoulder.

Russia coach Lyn Jones, a former Wales international and Ospreys boss, has included Sale prop Valery Morozov in his starting XV, one of only two players who play their club rugby outside of Russia.

Tokyo Stadium
Tokyo Stadium will stage five group matches including Wales v Australia and England v Argentina

Second row Andrei Ostrikov, who moved to Grenoble from Sale at the end of the season, is the other.

Former Northampton wing Vasily Artemyev, who now plays for Krasny Yar, captains the side from full-back.

Leitch says that the attention on the Japanese team is unlike anything that he has experienced with the Brave Blossoms.

"This is no normal turnout," he told a packed media conference.

"I'm so nervous I've been making all sorts of mistakes in training - there's so many people and so many cameras. But I'm very proud to be part of the World Cup and to be captain of the Japan rugby team."

The match will be staged at the near 50,000-capacity Tokyo Stadium, with the tournament's opening ceremony preceding kick-off.

Japan beat Russia 32-27 last November in the teams' most recent meeting and have been set the target of making a first quarter-final by coach Jamie Joseph.

What they said

Jamie Joseph
Japan coach Joseph played 29 Tests during his playing career, 20 for New Zealand and nine for Japan

Japan coach Jamie Joseph: "I never read Japanese newspapers but I've never really considered us to be the favourites for this match.

"I'd say we were even going into this Test match and if we don't play our best we're going to struggle.

"The team has prepared as well as ever before and we look forward to Friday night."

Russia coach Lyn Jones: "With structured and organised sides like Japan you need to create chaos to get them to think for themselves.

"I don't know if they're educated to do that, but it's all theory anyway.

"We do have a plan. We have got a formula and we think we can take Japan on and make life as difficult as possible for them."


  • Japan have won five of their previous six Test matches against Russia, including each of the past four; their most recent meeting saw Japan win despite trailing by 12 points at half-time, only once before have they recorded a bigger second-half comeback (16 points behind v Canada in 2014).
  • The opening game of the Rugby World Cup has been won by a host nation in six of the previous eight tournaments, with the only exceptions being England's defeat to New Zealand in 1991 and France's opening round loss to Argentina in 2007.
  • Japan won three of their four games at the Rugby World Cup in 2015, this after winning just once in 24 attempts during their previous seven World Cup campaigns (D2, L21).
  • Russia are set to appear in their second Rugby World Cup campaign; they lost all four games at the 2011 tournament by an average margin of 35 points.
  • Japan have slotted 90% of their kicks at goal in 2019, the best rate of any of the 20 sides at the Rugby World Cup in Test rugby this year, in contrast Russia have kicked 70% (ninth best).


Japan: Tupou; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Lemeki; Tamura, Nagare; Inagaki, Horie, Valu; Van der Walt, Moore; Leitch, Labuschagne, Himeno.

Replacements: Sakate, Nakajima, Ji-won, Thompson, Tui, Tanaka, Matsuda, Yamanaka

Russia: Artemyev; Davydov, Ostroushko, Gerasimov, Golosnitskiy; Kushnarev, Dorofeev; Morozov, Selskii, Gotovtsev, Ostrikov, Fedotko, Zhivatov, Gadzhiev, Vavilin

Replacements: Matveev, Polivalov, Bitiev, Garbuzov, Sychev, Perov, Gaisin, Sozonov

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