Win or lose, Japan will be fast and furious, says captain Leitch

After four tough years under two-time RWC finalist Eddie Jones, Japan skipper Michael Leitch says Japan will live up to their nickname of the Brave Blossoms in England

In their first match at Rugby World Cup 2011, Japan were within four points of eventual finalists France at one point but in the end allowed Les Bleus to escape with a 47-21 victory.

Should a potentially winnable match like that come around at RWC 2015, Japan captain Michael Leitch, who played in all four games at New Zealand for the Brave Blossoms, guarantees they won't let a win slip away.

"It's one of those games where the leadership group should have functioned a bit better," the New Zealand-born Leitch said, looking back on the France game at RWC 2011 where John Kirwan's Japan finished with three defeats and a draw. "We had them, but we just lacked that something to take us to the next step.

"Whereas this team we have now, we've been up against some extreme adversity in games and we've fought and got ourselves up. That's why we're training. There's all sorts of pressure on us."

Leading from the front

The pressure of captaincy will fall squarely on the shoulders of Leitch, who will turn 27 during RWC 2015 and will skipper Eddie Jones's side at the tournament. Naturalised by the Japanese government two years ago, Leitch said his time with the Chiefs in his second stint at Super Rugby this past season has educated him about what captaincy is all about.

"One of the key things I've learned from the Chiefs is that the captain has to keep a cool head," said the loose forward. "It's important to me that I know what's happening, know the score and time, know the referee and what he's doing. If we're going to win it's going to come down to a few moments where we're concentrating. We have to win the moments - every moment.

"It was tough in 2011 because we were really confident and thought we had a strong team, but all of a sudden we lost (Ryu Koliniasi Holani), we lost Justin (Ives), Alisi (Tupuailai) and all these players. Eddie's put us through some real tough training and we've come out on top. We should be all right. We just hope to we don't run into bad luck.

"If we go out there and the players aren't expecting to win, it's my job as captain to make sure they do. We want to win those games this time around. We've got enough time to get that mentality right."

Thanks to some of the gruelling sessions Jones has put his team through since April, Leitch - who estimates 90 per cent of the squad is stressed out because of the intense training - is convinced Japan will be the fittest side at RWC 2015, saying, "We're five times fitter than last time. Boy, we are fit. We're resilient in extreme conditions, and we can perform."

Confidence is key

Yet Leitch says at the end of the day, one familiar factor will determine whether Japan can end a 24-year dry spell at the Rugby World Cup - confidence.

"The most important thing is to build that winning confidence," Leitch said. "We can do all the running and be the fittest team in the world or strongest team in the world, but if we don't go out there and fight to win, it's just going to be a sad day.

"We need to build on our confidence to develop a winning mentality. Confidence is the key to our success because we've done all the hard work. We just have to believe in what we're doing and just go out there and do it. We just hope to we don't get any banana skins on the way there.”