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We’ll reach the World Cup's last eight: Japan rugby captain

Leitch says it will be the hosts' best World Cup, ahead of opener against Russia

Japan captain Michael Leitch said yesterday that he has been "all over the place" in practice in the run-up to tomorrow's Rugby World Cup opener against Russia.

The talismanic skipper, who missed a chunk of this year with a groin injury, was named in a strong Brave Blossoms side by Japan coach Jamie Joseph for the Pool A clash in Tokyo.

                   POOL A
JAPAN RUSSIA

But Leitch, joined by Japan stalwarts Yu Tamura and Shota Horie in an experienced starting line-up, admitted he has been taken aback by the scale of the media attention on the hosts in the run-up to the game.

"This is no normal turnout," Leitch told a packed news conference. "I'm so nervous I've been making all sorts of mistakes in training - there're 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."

MAKING HISTORY

Leitch, who orchestrated Japan's jaw-dropping 34-32 victory over South Africa in their opening game in England four years ago, predicted that the hosts would make history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time.

"In 2015, everyone expected us to lose - even the Japanese public," said the Japan flanker.

"But when we beat South Africa, all eyes were on us. The next game against Scotland, 30 million people watched on TV and, even though we lost, it inspired Japan.

"This time, 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."

Joseph, who will be without flying winger Kenki Fukuoka (thigh strain), insisted Japan would not go into tomorrow's game as favourites, despite the weight of evidence.

"I never read Japanese newspapers but I've never really considered us to be the favourites," said the former All Black, pointing to a narrow 32-27 win over a hulking Russian side last November.

"We have a lot of respect for Russia," he added. "We were very lucky to win last time we played.

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

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