Hosts Japan created history at Rugby World Cup 2019 as the Brave Blossoms beat both Ireland and Scotland to become the first Asian nation to reach the quarter-finals.
Captain Michael Leitch was a huge part of the team’s success and having joined team-mate Luke Thompson and Sean Maloney on the latest episode of Between the Lines, he revealed why the match against the Irish meant so much to him.
Following a warm-up defeat to South Africa and opening Pool A with a victory against Russia, Leitch was named as a replacement for the encounter with Ireland.
However, following an injury to Amanaki Mafi, the Brave Blossoms captain emerged from the bench after 30 minutes and helped turn a 12-3 deficit into a famous 19-12 win.
“They were all massive games and the preparation that we put in place, you couldn't ask for better,” Leitch said.
“Our leadership group was functional, communication with the staff and coaches was on point. Everything was aligned. And to go out and put [in action] what we said on paper was awesome.
“But the most memorable game for me would probably be the build-up to the Irish game, where the previous game before my performance wasn't good. The previous performance even, the South Africa game, wasn't too flash.
Crowd roars as captain Michael Leitch leads @JRFURugby with hands on shoulders into the changing room moments before kick-off #JPNvSCO #RWC2019— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 13, 2019
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/Z3jFoaXDPD pic.twitter.com/lLEWdViyd6
“But I got dropped for that game and I had to pick myself up pretty quick. And, you know, I got the opportunity to play in the first half and I just came in and gave everything I had.
“And more, to come off with the win, that’s probably one of the biggest weeks and biggest games of my life so far.
‘The crowd came with him’
“The Scotland game, obviously, was a massive game for us as well. And it was a do-or-die game and had the typhoon and had the press hounding us and the pressure was on.
“But I was just extremely proud of how our boys and staff kept our cool and didn't change anything drastically.”
Leitch added: “To beat those two big teams on home soil, it was awesome for Japanese rugby.”
Thompson started in the Japanese second-row against Ireland and was impressed with how his captain reacted to being named on the bench.
“I don't think he's been given the credit for the way he handled that,” Thompson said.
“That could have been an issue for the team or whatever, but it shows the character of the man the way he just copped it and still added value, still took everything in his stride. And then came out and played the way he played.
“You could see when he came on, he just lifted the team and then the crowd came with him. It was unreal. Like, he just changed the momentum of the game just by coming on.”