By Yoko Kono
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Michael Leitch has resumed the captaincy for Sunday’s World Cup game against Scotland in Yokohama, a match coach Jamie Joseph has called the most important in his team’s history.
Leitch will lead an experienced side, which includes the recalled hooker Shota Horie and veteran lock Luke Thompson, for the 32nd time against Scotland in the final game of the World Cup pool phase.
The winner is likely to advance to the quarter-finals from Pool A, which could potentially end up with three teams on 15 points.
Coach Joseph had handed the armband to Pieter Labuschagne for the last two games against Ireland and Samoa to help take some of the spotlight off Leitch during Japan’s unbeaten run.
“We all see him and feel just how much things he has to do,” Joseph told reporters. “He can’t go outside the hotel without signing autographs.
“(But) he is the most appropriate leader. And he is the leader for this game.”
The match is still in jeopardy due to Typhoon Hagibis, which has already forced the cancellation of Saturday’s games between England and France in Yokohama and New Zealand v Italy in Toyota City.
Joseph said he had chosen his side for their big match experience, bringing back Kenki Fukuoka, who scored the match-winning try against Ireland, for Lomano Lemeki on the left wing.
Lemeki was man-of-the-match in Japan’s 38-19 win against Samoa last weekend.
Full-back William Tupou comes in for Ryohei Yamanaka, who is now on the bench in the only other change to the starting side that beat Samoa.
“We feel that we are in a good position with three wins … (and) this is not a coincidence, it is because of hard work,” Joseph added.
“This will be the most important test match.
“We feel that the whole nation is backing us.”
Team: 15-William Tupou, 14-Kotaro Matsushima, 13-Timothy Lafaele, 12-Ryoto Nakamura, 11-Kenki Fukuoka, 10-Yu Tamura, 9-Yutaka Nagare, 8-Kazuki Himeno, 7-Pieter Labuschagne, 6-Michael Leitch (captain), 5-James Moore, 4-Luke Thompson, 3-Jiwon Koo, 2-Shota Horie, 1-Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16-Atsushi Sakate, 17-Isileli Nakajima, 18-Asaeli Ai Valu, 19-Uwe Helu, 20-Hendrik Tui, 21-Fumiaki Tanaka 22-Rikiya Matsuda, 23-Ryohei Yamanaka
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Toyota City; Editing by Peter Rutherford)