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Statue of rugby star Michael Leitch donated to alma mater in north Japan

A reinforced plastic statue of Michael Leitch is seen at Sapporo Yamanote Sr. High School, his alma mater, in Sapporo's Nishi Ward on Jan. 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Kunihiko Misawa)

SAPPORO -- A life-size statue of Michael Leitch, who served as captain of the Japan national rugby team in the Rugby World Cup 2019, was donated to Sapporo Yamanote Sr. High School, his alma mater in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, on Jan. 16.

The statue, which portrays Leitch dashing while holding a rugby ball, was created by Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Estate Co., an official sponsor of the World Cup. The artwork, made of reinforced plastic, had been on display in Tokyo's Marunouchi business district.

As the ownership of the object belongs to Leitch, the model of the work, it was decided to present it to his old school. As the statue comes with a bench, people can sit on it for photographs.

Mikio Sato, coach of the school's rugby team, had promised Leitch when he was at the school that he "would erect a bronze statue if you were selected as a member of the Japan national team." Leitch subsequently debuted as part of the national squad when he was a second-year university student. Sato then upped the ante and vowed to set up the statue if Leitch went on to become the national team captain.

The 31-year-old star flanker more than lived up to his former manager's expectations, sweeping Japan into the best eight in the World Cup in the fall of 2019 as team captain.

"I couldn't build a statue for him, but instead was presented with one. I hope the statue will inspire and encourage many people who see it," Sato said.

The statue will be on display inside the school building during the winter, and come spring, will be set up under a cherry tree in the playground so rugby team members can see it while practicing.

(Japanese original by Kunihiko Misawa, Hokkaido News Department)

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