Rugby

Kazuki Himeno looks to follow example set by Japan captain Michael Leitch

Kyodo

With the 2019 Rugby World Cup set to kick off in less than seven months, members of the Japan squad went through their paces Thursday at the national team camp in the western Tokyo city of Machida.

Among the players looking to make their mark on home soil at the tournament is lock Kazuki Himeno, who has been an integral member of the Brave Blossoms since his international debut against Australia in November 2017.

The 24-year-old, who plays for the Sunwolves and Top League side Toyota Verblitz, said he was striving to follow the example set by Japan captain Michael Leitch.

“I want to develop by following in his footsteps as closely as I can,” Himeno said.

Himeno’s study of the New Zealand-born Leitch in camp includes sticking by his side during shuttle-run drills.

“When we’re running, I line up next to him. When Leitch-san takes off, I’m trying to stick with him,” Himeno said.

The back-rower, who played all six tests for Japan last year, says he has packed on “one or two kilograms” during the camp and now tips the scales at 113 kg.

Having been named Verblitz captain after a year with the club, Himeno is increasingly taking on a leadership role with the national team.

His all-out efforts in camp have not gone unnoticed by Leitch.

“He has put on quite a bit of size. He seems to have made a conscious effort to tackle hard and really wants to be the strongest runner,” the 30-year-old Leitch said.

Japan will face Russia in the World Cup curtain raiser in Tokyo on Sept. 20.

The Jamie Joseph-coached Brave Blossoms, whose pool also includes Ireland, Scotland and Samoa, are aiming to reach the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time.