Mafi's success a boost for Japan: Leitch

International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Amanaki Mafi’s Super Rugby year was astonishing in Australia and will be inspirational in Japanese rugby, according to Japan captain Michael Leitch.

Leitch returned to the Japanese fold earlier this year after a self-imposed absence from the Test arena, and will combine with Mafi in an intimidating Japan backrow.

Mafi carried the Rebels in Super Rugby this season and was crowned Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year for his outstanding run of form for the battling franchise.

This week, he’s been a handy weapon in helping the Brave Blossoms prepare for the Wallabies, a side that includes a handful of his clubmates.

“Having that experience in Australia, he's helped the team immensely in preparation with how the Australians think and how they're going to approach this game so his involvement this week has been excellent."

Amanaki Mafi starred fro the Rebels. Photo: Getty ImagesLeitch said Mafi’s stunning turn in Australia would be a pathway for others to try and follow.

“I knew he had the potential and to see him do so well with the rebels, it's great for him, great for Japan,” he said.

“It's also great for a lot of the local Tongan boys that are playing here (to see that), so it's a stepping stone to greater things for him.”

Their combination will be a lethal one, but Leitch wasn’t ready to compare themselves to the Wallabies loose forwards they will face, praising his Australian counterpart Michael Hooper when asked about their threat.

“To match them in the backrow, it's going to be difficult,” he said.

“They're one of the best backrows in the world, so it'll be tough.”

Japan’s side is still very much in its fledgling stages when it comes to combinations and coach Jamie Joseph said the team was still trying to find a balance of youth and experience heading into the World Cup in two years’ time.

Where their backrow is intimidating, their lock stocks are thin and Joseph put that down to slim pickings when it came to sizeable players in Japan.

“I've been in the job now a year and the start of the year we lost about half the side, about 18 players i think it was from the World Cup,” he said.

“We're rebuilding and now we've had the return of our captain Michael Leitch after having the first campaign off this year.

‘It’s been a wee bit all over the place but we think we're starting to get a reasonable balance of players, quite a few young guys in here.

“The World Cup's two years away so we hope that everyone will make it but being the coach you've got to make sure you're prepared for all scenarios so brought some young guys in.”