Kindness at the time of a family tragedy leads Leitch to pledge his allegiance to the Japanese team as a teenager.

Rugby is a hot topic in Japan right now, as the nation’s Brave Blossoms go from strength to strength with each match they play at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

After a shock win against Ireland last month, Japan went on to beat Samoa 38-19, and then on the weekend they defeated Scotland 28-21, with a win that saw them enter the Rugby World Cup Quarter-finals for the first time in history.

Needless to say, there’s a huge amount of interest in the Japanese rugby team right now, and one person who can’t go out on the street without being stopped for autographs is captain Michael Leitch.

▼ New Zealand-born Leitch answers questions in both Japanese and English after the game against Scotland on Sunday.

Leitch studied at Sapporo Yamanote Senior High School in Hokkaido in 2004, at the age of 15, as part of a school exchange program, before going on to attend Tokai University and captaining the Japan national under-20 rugby team in 2008.

▼ Sapporo Yamanote Senior High School is the best rugby school in Hokkaido and one of the most famous in Japan.

After playing for a number of Japanese rugby teams, Leitch became a Japanese citizen in 2013, but according to Japanese Twitter, there’s an important piece of information missing from the 31-year-old’s professional bio, and that’s the reason why he chose to play rugby for Japan.

Twitter user @Takahiro0309 revealed the background story in the following tweet:

The above tweet reads:

“Michael Leitch studied abroad in Japan from the second year of senior high school.
When he was in high school there was a fire at his family home in New Zealand, so at that time the coach secretly collected donations from the community and quietly sent it to Leitch’s family.
Moved by the gesture, Leitch felt the only way to pay back the favour was through rugby. No matter what, he wouldn’t represent any country other than Japan, and he holds these thoughts with his actions today.
This is wonderful 😭”

According to @Takahiro0309, this information comes from a book called Kokkyoou wo Koeta Scrum: Rugby Nihondaihyou ni natta gaikokujin Senshutachi (“The Scrum Beyond National Borders: The Foreign Players who became Japan Rugby Representatives“).

▼  Written by Toru Yamakawa, Leitch’s story is often quoted in reviews for the book.

This written work looks at the reasons why players with diverse roots chose to represent Japan in rugby, while highlighting the fact that “the current Japanese national team is the result of the struggles of foreign players who have pioneered the way in different cultures, with teammates who have accepted them.

The excerpt from the book that details Leitch’s desire to return the gratitude he received at a Japanese high school has touched the hearts of people in Japan, who left comments like:

“Leitch’s high school coach is a noble man, and Leitch is also a noble man.”
“There’s a strong spirit within those strong muscles.”
“This moved me to tears! What a wonderful captain!”
“I’m reading this on the Shinkansen and now I’m crying on the train.”

“I want to thank that coach! That act of kindness contributed to the Japan rugby team becoming incredibly strong today.”

Leitch’s story really does go to show the power that a little kindness can bring, and as Leitch now pays that kindness forward through his rugby game, the entire country stands to benefit from the generosity extended by that coach fifteen years ago.

And with acts of kindness being shown by the teams from Ireland and Canada during their stay in Japan, it looks like this spirit of generosity is rubbing off on other countries in the tournament too.

Source: Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Twitter/@SBPerori
Insert image: Wikipedia/ozizo
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