By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Jamie Joseph caused a stir when naming his starting lineup for Japan’s Rugby World Cup Pool A meeting with Samoa on Saturday as, although he brought back regular captain Michael Leitch at flanker, Pieter Labuschagne was named skipper.
Leitch, the face of Japanese rugby and captain of the Brave Blossoms since 2014, was left on the bench for the beginning of their upset win over Ireland before coming on in the first half for the injured Amanaki Mafi.
Labuschagne captained the side in Shizuoka but Leitch was expected to step back into the role on his return.
Joseph, however, had other ideas and it is Labuschagne who will lead the Brave Blossoms out against Samoa in Toyota City.
Japan said it does not matter who is listed as captain as both players, who combine with Kazuki Himeno in an imposing back row, will be leaders on the pitch.
“I think ‘Lappies’ (Labuschagne) and Leitch are both outstanding leaders,” attack coach Tony Brown said on Friday.
“Obviously Lappies has been fully fit and playing fine in every game so far, Michael has been in and out of the team this year so Lappies is a natural guy to take over.”
“With the two captains running the team it will help the performance of the team and keep us sharp under pressure.”
Leitch, who has missed several matches this year with injury, said he understood the decision.
“Both us two will be leading the team, he’s the game captain and I am the team captain,” the 30-year-old said on Thursday.
“There is not much change, I am doing the same thing. The strength of this team is the leadership.
“Frankly, I think it would go well whoever is in that position.”
Japan can expect a physical encounter with Samoa, who they beat 26-5 at the previous World Cup in England.
“Theirs is a physical game and what I want to do is the same, keep facing them head on,” centre Ryoto Nakamura said on Friday.
“I feel that will be the focus point also for us as a team.”
Samoa have beaten Russia but lost to Scotland so far and so know a win against the hosts is imperative if they are to progress from the pool.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis)