Japan vs Russia : The talismanic skipper, who missed a chunk of the year with a groin injury, was named in a strong Brave Blossoms side by Japan coach Jamie Joseph for Friday’s Pool A clash in Tokyo.
Watch Rugby World Cup 2019 Live
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’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.”
Russia’s coach Lyn Jones, meanwhile, accepts the Brave Blossoms are favourites but wants to rattle a few feathers in the opening match.
The youngest player at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan
Japan versus Russia: The last time they met on the rugby field
RWC 2019: All Blacks vs Springboks, prediction, time, live scores, TV, result and news
RWC 2019: Fiji vs Australia, prediction, time, live scores, TV, result and news
“Let me be frank, we have a 20 per cent chance in this game – but that’s just on paper,” the Welsh coach said.
“Japan are favourites. They are very fast, nobody makes mistakes. We appreciate the way Japan play but we also want to touch the line, do well and enjoy ourselves.”
His captain, full-back Vasily Artemyev, agrees and is similarly positive about his side’s prospects.
“We watched the last four or five games of Japan. They have a very structured, organised game. We need to bring chaos into their organisation,” he said.
Japan vs Russia: In brief
The weakest team in Pool A by ranking, Russia came close to upsetting Japan in November 2018.
Russia often use simple forward play but do have a hidden creative streak they can call on when needed.
Russia advance up the field thanks to opposition ill-discipline and accurate kicking.
Even in defeats by Tier 1 teams, Japan have been impressive. In 2018 they lost by 20 points against England and by three against Italy, a week after beating the Italians in Oita.
To progress, they have to be victorious against fellow Tier 2 sides Russia and Samoa and pick off one of either Scotland or Ireland. To guarantee that they do not end up in the same predicament as four years ago – three wins, yet no quarter-final spot – they will need to beat both Ireland and Scotland.
Japan vs Russia: Rugby World Cup kick-off time and prediction
Kick off time: The action begins at 12:45 (SAST) at the Ajinomoto Stadium and the action will be live on SuperSport 1.
For the RWC, we’ll be using a prediction algorithm from a New Zealand anorak.
Prediction: Japan by more than 30 points.
RWC 2019 live scores and result: Japan vs Russia
Our live match centre might take some time to load. Please allow a few seconds. We apologise for any inconvenience.
Japan are at odds of $251 to win the Rugby World Cup on home soil and while we don’t believe that’s possible we can see some opportunities to back the host nation.
They are rated around $5 to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time and, with a fanatical crowd behind them plus a rock-solid preparation, we can see them getting out of the pool stages.
Who can forget their wonderful performances in the 2015 World Cup in England when they won three of their four matches only to miss out on points differential. The Brave Blossoms’ run included that memorable 34-32 win over South Africa, who loom as potential quarter-final opponents.
Japan have been big movers in the ranks of world rugby over the past decade and their exciting style of play is sure to cause headaches for the likes of Pool A big guns Ireland and Scotland.
They dominated the Pacific Nations Cup and have been preparing the squad diligently for this massive event on home soil.