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Leitch fears Japan failing to build on World Cup heroics

RESENDING WITH COMPLETE SCRIPT

VIDEO SHOWS: MICHAEL LEITCH AT COFFEE SHOP / LEITCH SPEAKING ABOUT FUTURE OF JAPANESE RUGBY, SUPER RUGBY AND POSSIBLY BECOMING JRFU CEO ONE DAY / FILE FOOTAGE OF LEITCH DURING RUGBY WORLD CUP AND DURING RUGBY WORLD CUP PARADE

SHOWS:

TOKYO, JAPAN (RECENT - MARCH 4, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. VARIOUS OF EXTERIOR OF JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH'S COFFEE SHOP

2. VARIOUS OF LEITCH BEFORE INTERVIEW

3. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH, SAYING:

"For the national team, to get to that point (at the World Cup) took a lot of hard work, four years of hard work, and we did that for a short period. To do it back-to-back, back-to-back would be a very difficult process. If that was going to happen you would have to change the way Top League operates and have certain times when the national team can get together and train. But, at the moment, it is a bit… I wouldn't say disorganised… but we are not focussing on the Japanese team at the moment."

4. LEITCH DURING INTERVIEW

5. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH, SAYING:

"If we start losing those test matches then we could get back to what we were at, only playing against tier two countries and playing against each other. There is a lot of pressure on us to keep playing well and to be competitive against those top tier one countries."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - SEPTEMBER 18, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

6. JAPAN TEAM STRETCHING DURING GYM SESSION

7. WINGER KENKI FUKUOKA STRETCHING

8. LEITCH STRETCHING

TOKYO, JAPAN (RECENT - MARCH 4, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

9. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH, SPEAKING ABOUT THE SUNWOLVES, SAYING:

"It is very disappointing. That was such a great tool for us to develop good Japanese players and for us to not be a part of that next year… I'm not sure how else we are going to develop good Japanese players unless they start playing for Japan but we need to get them to the point where they can compete for Japan."

FUKUROI CITY, JAPAN (FILE - SEPTEMBER 27, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

10. JAPAN TEAM ARRIVING FOR TRAINING BEFORE MATCH AGAINST IRELAND

11. LEITCH WALKING

12. HEAD COACH JAMIE JOSEPH LOOKING ON

13. JAPAN TEAM TRAINING

TOKYO, JAPAN (RECENT - MARCH 4, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

14. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH, SAYING:

"For me personally, I don't want to see Japanese rugby turned into a league that is no Japanese players, or in the national team with no Japanese players, so there needs to be a way where we promote Japanese rugby players and I think that is the next step we need to take."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - DECEMBER 11, 2019) (FOREIGN POOL - ACCESS ALL)

15. PARADE FOR JAPANESE RUGBY TEAM UNDERWAY

16. LEITCH WALKING WITH TEAM MEMBERS AND WAVING TO CROWD

17. PARADE FOR JAPANESE RUGBY TEAM UNDERWAY

18. LEITCH WAVING

19. FANS WAVING AND TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS WITH SMARTPHONES

20. LEITCH AND OTHER PLAYERS WAVING TO FANS AND WALKING BY

TOKYO, JAPAN (RECENT - MARCH 4, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

21. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAPAN RUGBY UNION CAPTAIN, MICHAEL LEITCH, SAYING:

"After the World Cup, I had six weeks in New Zealand so I had a good time to think about what I want to do. But after spending six weeks in New Zealand - I live in a town with maybe 3,000 people - I got thinking I can't retire from rugby, come back here and live and do nothing. So, the next thing I was thinking about was maybe getting into some kind of administration job, maybe become the CEO of Japanese rugby one day. One day. That would be an interesting job because I have genuine passion for Japanese rugby and I can use my English and my Japanese to communicate with different unions. And obviously with having that rugby background too, I need to now get a business background so hopefully this coffee shop starts to make money. I could be the CEO of Japanese rugby one day."

22. LEITCH DURING INTERVIEW

STORY: Japan's fairytale run to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals was a highlight of last year's tournament but with the afterglow all but gone and a coronavirus pandemic forcing the world of sports to a standstill, captain Michael Leitch fears not enough is being done to secure the Brave Blossoms a place at the game's top table.

"To get to that point (at the World Cup) took a lot of hard work, four years of hard work, and we did that for a short period," Leitch told Reuters. "But at the moment, it is a bit ... I wouldn't say disorganised ... but we are not focusing on the Japanese team at the moment."

In an unprecedented move last year, the corporations that own Japan's domestic clubs allowed players to train with the national team for nine months ahead of the World Cup. Since then, however, the Top League had returned to normal, meaning the players would only be available to Japan for short periods before test matches.

Japan was also dealt a major blow its national rugby campaign after losing its Super Rugby side, the Sunwolves, which Leitch described as a "great tool for us to develop great Japanese players".

For Leitch, who was born in New Zealand and moved to Japan when he was 15, any new structure must prioritize the development of young Japanese talent.

"For me personally, I don't want to see Japanese rugby turned into a league that is no Japanese players, or in the national team with no Japanese players, so there needs to be a way where we promote Japanese rugby players and I think that is the next step we need to take."

As he does on the pitch, Leitch is prepared to back up his words with action, and the future of rugby in his adopted nation is at the forefront of his thinking.

"After the World Cup, I had six weeks in New Zealand," said the 31-year-old loose forward.

"I got thinking, 'I can't retire from rugby, come back here, live and do nothing'. I was thinking about getting into some kind of administration job. Maybe become the CEO of Japanese rugby one day."

(Production: Jack Tarrant)