“The XV of France is the best team in the world,” proclaims the Japanese Michael Leitch

Japan’s charismatic third-line Michael Leitch answered questions from RMC Sport ahead of his summer tour where his country will face Uruguay twice on June 18 and 25 and then France’s XV twice. on July 2 and 9. If Leitch, 33, is no longer the captain of the Brave Blossoms, he remains a central figure in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup. The New Zealander is excited to see the performances of the Habs. This Thierry Dusautoir fan sets the bar very high for his team at the 2023 World Cup and is confident in the original conversion he dreams of.

Michael Leitch, what memories do you have of the 23-23 draw against France during the autumn tour of 2017. It was a shock for the French to draw against Japan …

Very good memories of this match at the new Racing stadium, it was full, the atmosphere was great, France had a long streak of defeats (5), they had lost many games and I remember that the fans booed the French team. I remember it perfectly.

Because of Japan, France has changed completely. There was a new coach Jacques Brunel and then quickly Fabien Galthié. The current good French pace is a bit the fault of Japan …

(River). I remember. We had a great chance to win France, they were in a difficult period with 2 or 3 years where the VI Nations tournaments were difficult, many defeats, but now if you look at the French team it is the best team in the world. , is very good. It’s very exciting to see you play in the World Cup.

Really, if you had to classify the teams, would you put France at 1?

I would put France’s number 1 team. They are very strong. When the World Cup arrives, they will have the advantage of being at home. I know how it feels. It’s an exciting team and with victories people are passionate about these players, and when the French have that passion they are unstoppable. We’ve seen it in the past, in 2011, they didn’t play very well in the pool and in the final they almost won the All Blacks by one or two points (7-8 defeat). That day I saw Thierry Dusautoir do something like 30 tackles. He was great, he’s been my best player since that day. If you look at the national team of France, you have great players Makalou, NTamack, Dupont, it’s really a great team

What are the great strengths of the French team? You mentioned Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont …

I’m not quite sure about the names of the players, but when they play you feel that French style, they’re also dominant up front with a good scrum, good touches. It will be a good test for us during these summer tests. I won’t lie to you, I haven’t seen many recent meetings but as soon as we finish both games against Uruguay on June 18th and 25th, we will look seriously at how France plays, how we can frustrate. his attack.

Looking at the Top 14?

I know some teams, I talk to Kotaro Matsushima, the back of Clermont. He tells me that it is a very competitive championship, with many good players and where the French team has priority.

The French team will probably be detached from its best elements retained by the final of the French championship. What changes this?

It will probably be even harder because many players will have this opportunity to play with the blue jersey and this is their chance to be part of the team that will be in the World Cup. There will be many players who will be very hungry. Those who come to Japan will not want to miss their chance. France is still one of the best teams in the world and will be very competitive, has a very strong squad, and we will be lucky to have them ahead.

You said the magic word before, French style …

This is what I see in the French game. I return to Dusautoir. Sometimes the XV of France can be terrible, bad. But other days, it’s fabulous. In my opinion, it’s a click in the head. If they find it, they are unstoppable. You also feel it when you look at them, how each player defends, pushes melee or attacks, it’s great to see. It’s a passionate team for 80 minutes.

During this tour, Japan faces Uruguay twice and France twice. What are the goals at stake and results?

First we have Uruguay and then France. We have not won a test match since November against Portugal (60-5). We have started to add new players and there is experience to take against level 1 teams (world-class teams, editor’s note) like France. As for me, I want victory. We haven’t sold to a great team in a long time. For us to win these two tests would be great for our preparation and our confidence for the World Cup.

Would you say that these matches against France are a test of personality for the construction of the Japanese team in the World Cup?

So far we have a lot of injured players. To go to the World Cup, to qualify for the quarterfinals, you need a lot of team depth. This month of touring will allow us to see that depth and give many guys a chance to play against France.

In a recent interview, you said that Japan should do better in 2023 than in the 2019 World Cup, where you reached the quarterfinals for the first time in the country’s history (losing 26-3 against ‘South Africa’). . Didn’t you change your mind?

That hasn’t changed. We need to keep moving forward. To get there we have to work the depth of our bank. We have excellent coaches in each area, very good players who were already there in 2019, it is important for us to keep progressing.

You have a little over a year to raise your level. In your World Cup pool you will be with England and Argentina …

Every hen is very difficult. We will have to take each game very seriously. It will be important to maintain the momentum we have built this summer with Uruguay, France and then in the autumn with England, New Zealand, Australia and again France. It’s a great opportunity to build it.

Three years after the success of the course during your world championship at home, do you think the expectations of the Japanese public are higher? Now do you expect the Brave Blossoms to qualify for the quarterfinals every time?

I’m not sure I can answer that question. We are always at a disadvantage when it comes to a World Cup. I don’t think the public has as much anticipation with our performances. For them, our way of playing is more important. Internally, a good match is not enough, we want victory. We are not going to the World Cup to participate but to win. We want to win and make our fans happy.

In 2019, you became captain. There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. After this epic, was the fall harder for you?

It was a great experience. He was very proud of the players and how the team inspired the whole country. Many teams saw Japan. We were no longer a team that suffered in a World Cup. Progressing and being the favorite in matches is a source of great pride. Captain of this team will probably be the highlight of my career.

You are no longer the captain of Japan. Because ? You said “a captain has to be a leader and be 100% otherwise he can’t be”.

Yes. You know that training with the national team is very hard. You have to be a leader in training and then in matches. I couldn’t do it anymore. After the World Cup I underwent six operations. My body was broken. He could no longer maintain the same standards. I had a conversation with Jamie Joseph (the coach, note from the editor) who relieved me of this role.

I read that you had the ambition to be the coach of the Mongolian national team. Is true ?

My big goal is to grow rugby in Asia. Japan has long been the best team, but we are no longer involved with the top five Asian nations. My idea is to go to Mongolia, find good players there, take them to Japan. There is already a player in this case, he is in high school and on his way to representing Japan. One day I would like to go to Mongolia and be the national coach to help them in the Asian qualifying campaign.

Mongolia where there are excellent judokas and the best sumo wrestlers on the planet, is smart …

Yes. That’s what I thought. All the best sums are Mongolian. I could find a promising kid and make him a good, strong pillar, and send him to France in the Top 14 (river).

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