Leitch overshadows De Villiers in Japanese win

2015-09-20 13:51
Michael Leitch (AP)

Brighton -Japan captain Michael Leitch dealt a knockout blow to South Africa skipper Jean de Villiers in the World Cup like Buster Douglas did to the feared Mike Tyson.

As Douglas did against the untouchable Tyson to take the heavyweight crown in Tokyo in 1990, Leitch and Japan coach Eddie Jones outsmarted their mighty Springboks counterparts de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer in and outside the ring for Saturday's stunning 34-32 upset.

The 26-year-old Leitch, who has tried his hand twice at the Southern Hemipshere's elite Super Rugby without success, beat the much-respected De Villiers, 34, in every area on the pitch.

Leitch introduced himself to his opposite number in spectacular fashion with a bonecrunching tackle early on -- earning himself a telling off from the referee. But the thrilling final 10 minutes of the match encapsulated their battle.

With the crowd counting down to the final whistle and just three points separating them, the 'Brave Blossoms' were awarded a penalty, eminently kickeable for their man of the match Ayumu Gonomaru. But sensing a historic moment was at hand, Leitch went for broke and a historic try.

Karne Hesketh duly delivered and New Zealand-born Leitch -- who bashfully admits he speaks better Japanese than English after moving to Japan aged 15 to study -- earned his place alongside Japanese sporting heroes such as Masahiro Tanaka, the New York Yankees pitcher.

"I could tell they were panicking," said Leitch.

"We wanted to scrum rather than take the kick because they were down a man and I personally wanted to go for a win rather than a draw. I didn't want to let the boys down."

Contrast his audacity to the conservatism of De Villiers.

With seven minutes remaining, the game all square but with the Springboks in a great territorial position they were also awarded a penalty.

De Villiers, who started the game by ordering his kickers to go for touch rather than goal which failed to pay off, erred on the side of caution and told Handre Pollard to go for the three points.

De Villiers' decision making fell short of what a shellshocked Meyer had expected of him and the rest of the most experienced Springbok starting XV to set foot on a pitch.

"In retrospect yes it was a mistake not to kick at goal for several penalty opportunities," said Meyer.

"Even the last penalty we should have gone for a try. Just wrong decisions throughout the game. It's a below par performance and unacceptable."

There was some debate as to whether Leitch boldly went against the Japan coaching staff by going for a try. Although, as in many highly-charged occasions people had different memories of what went on.

"It was a great decision by 'Leitchie' to go for it, we're here for wins," commented veteran lock and fellow New Zealander Luke Thompson.

"The staff probably wanted three points but we were pretty pumped up.

"I heard a physio come on and say three points but there was so much noise out there he may not have been heard. 'Leitchie' makes the decisions and I am just proud of how he came through."

Japan coach Eddie Jones did not allude to any conflict and instead hoped Keitch would reap the rewards of his and Japan's greatest moment in rugby history, and perhaps in any team sport they have competed in at a global level.

"There are kids at home who want to play baseball because of Masahiro Tanaka the New York Yankees pitcher and football because of (Shinji) Kagawa wherever he plays now (Borussia Dortmund).

"Now hopefully they will want to be the next Michael Leitch.

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Most Read

Opinion Poll

The Springboks' best player at the 2019 Rugby World Cup was:

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.