Japan coach Eddie Jones, who will also serve as director of rugby of the new Japanese Super Rugby side, said Thursday that Michael Leitch would remain captain of the Brave Blossoms even though he had re-signed to play for the Chiefs next year rather than the new Tokyo-based franchise.
“Super Rugby has nothing to do with the national team,” Jones told Kyodo News. “Michael will return to the national squad (next week as they prepare for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup) as captain of the national team.”
The Hamilton, New Zealand- based Chiefs announced early Thursday morning that Leitch had signed on for another season with the franchise, and Jones said that while he had hoped the 26-year-old would play for the new Japanese team, he understood the reasons behind the back row forward’s decision.
“I always tell the players they have to make the best decision for themselves. If they feel that moving is the best thing for them then they should move. I would have preferred he played for the Japanese team, but Michael felt this was the best thing for him.”
Asked whether he thought any other Japanese players may be tempted to sign for an overseas franchise, Jones said, “There are probably only two or three in that category.”
“If they are good enough and get an offer from elsewhere, then they have to make the right decision. That’s the nature of professional rugby. It doesn’t worry me.”
Jones, however, wasn’t quite so happy about the state of negotiations with the rest of the players he is hoping to sign for the as-yet-unnamed team, whose season is set to kick off March 4, 2016.
“No news is bad news,” he said when asked if anyone had put pen to paper.
“The franchise is trying very hard but it’s a really difficult situation. There are some guys we can’t talk to because their companies won’t allow it. Argentina (one of the two other new sides in the expanded competition) have signed 30 players because they can talk to the players directly. It’s a very complicated and convoluted process trying to negotiate with the companies.”
Despite the current problems, Jones said he was confident the side would eventually sort itself out and he confirmed that “four or five marquee players” would be announced by the end of July.
Japan will play in one of the two South African conferences when it joins the expanded Super Rugby competition next year and will play three of its home games in Singapore.