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Former Japan captain Leitch set to return

Kyodo

Michael Leitch is heading back to Japan after announcing Tuesday that this season will be his last Super Rugby campaign with the Chiefs.

Leitch, who captained Japan at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, has been a full-time member of the Hamilton, New Zealand, franchise for the past three seasons. He originally signed as part of the team’s wider training squad in 2013, but injury prevented him from playing any games for the side as it went on to win the title that year.

Despite being offered a new contract with the franchise, Leitch said he has opted to head back to Japan in the hope of regaining his spot on the national team ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which will be hosted by Japan.

“I love playing for the Chiefs but they’re looking to build for the future with (new coach) Colin Cooper coming in and they wanted to sign their key players pretty soon so I had to make the decision,” he told nzcity.co.nz.

Last month, the 28-year-old back-row forward announced that he would play for the Sunwolves in 2019 and Tuesday’s announcement would suggest he would also be available for the 2018 season.

However, Leitch, who will once again suit up for Toshiba Brave Lupus in the 2017-18 Top League season, hinted he would to take some time off, depending on the wishes of Japan head coach Jamie Joseph.

“I would like to take a break but realistically I’m not sure that will happen,” Leitch said.

“The good thing about the Sunwolves is they have a squad of 50 players so (they) can rotate (their) team more than any other franchise in the world. We’re just going to see how the schedule looks and how the Top League season goes, and what type of contract we can negotiate.”

“In order to play for Japan at the World Cup you need to be playing for the Sunwolves in 2019, but I guess if Jamie wants me in the mix next season I will be playing for them.”

Leitch, who attended Sapporo Yamanote High School and Tokai University, has played 47 games for the Brave Blossoms since making his international debut in 2008, leading them on 18 occasions.