Japan captain Michael Leitch said Wednesday he will join the Sunwolves for the 2019 Super Rugby Season, as his current side the Chiefs prepare to clash with the Japanese franchise this weekend in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Leitch told stuff.co.nz he will play for the Sunwolves in 2019 in the build-up to that year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, with the possibility he may join the franchise as early as 2018.
“(In) 2019 (I) definitely will be playing for the Sunwolves,” the 28-year-old back row forward said, adding that 2018 was “fully negotiable” dependant on how the new format of the competition — which sees the Sunwolves move into the Australian Conference — pans out.
“We don’t know what the draw is, when the tournament’s going to start, how much travel is involved,” he said.
Having won 47 caps and led the Brave Blossoms on 18 occasions, Leitch put his international career on hold following Rugby World Cup 2015.
“Leading up to the World Cup there was back-to-back seasons playing Super Rugby, Japan, Toshiba,” he told the New Zealand media.
“What goes up must come down. I’d worked myself up to the point where I was peaking at the World Cup. And that 2016 season I was just no good — my head was in the wrong place, body was no good, and I managed to do half a Super season but ended up banging myself up and needed (thumb) surgery.
“So I made the decision to pull back, focus on two teams. This year I negotiated the Chiefs contract so I get certain rests, and I’m managing my workload a lot better. This year I’m a much better player than I was last year.”
Japan coach Jamie Joseph said two weeks ago that Leitch, who will suit up for Toshiba Brave Lupus in the 2017-2018 Top League season, had made himself available for the summer tests that see the Brave Blossoms take on Romania on June 10 and then Ireland on June 17 and 24.
“(My) last three performances (for the Chiefs) weren’t up to standards but I’ll use the next couple of weeks to really push my case for that spot,” Leitch said.