It’s been over two months since Japan captain Michael Leitch made his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs, but the New Zealand-born loose forward says he’s still learning with every game.
Some lessons are a little harsher than others.
In last week’s 18-22 loss to the Hurricanes, the 26-year-old Chiefs No.8 learned how to be part of a team playing three-quarters of a rugby match without any locks.
With Michael Allardice and Michael Fitzgerald sidelined midway through the first half by injury, the Chiefs completed the game with five loosies on the paddock.
Leitch, who has lived in Japan since he was 15, says the Chiefs had worked hard to adjust.
“It’s not something you train for, and I think the boys adapted well – Liam Messam really stepped up, and everyone knew their roles,” he told NZ Newswire.
“In terms of our game plan and what we wanted to do, I think we achieved what we wanted. We lost our locks pretty early in the piece, and still managed to put together a good performance.”
This week against the Bulls, the newly re-signed Johan Bardoul will be joined in the second row by either Fitzgerald or veteran campaigner Ross Filipo.
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick’s shoulder injury is still keeping him sidelined, and Matt Symons, concussed in the Chiefs’ 16-15 loss to the Rebels on May 2, is not yet ready to play.
Leitch is expecting the Bulls to be wounded after they were upset 23-18 by the Blues last week, but is confident the Chiefs will be able to match them.
“They’ve been pretty consistent over the past couple of games with their maul and kicking game, so we’re not expecting any surprises.
“But if they do try and do something different, I’m sure we’ll be able to adapt.”
Despite the Chiefs’ horror injury run, Leitch says his first Super Rugby season is providing invaluable experience.
“Every game’s new to me, so I’m taking every week as a bonus. I don’t know what to expect – every game’s just like playing a Test match, I guess.”
Although the Rugby World Cup is looming ever closer, Leitch says his priorities centre on doing the best job he can for the Chiefs.
“It’s going to be a big year, but my focus right now is with the Chiefs. I’ll do what I can for them, and once that’s done, I’ll refocus on the World Cup.”