September 24, 2019
Japan’s captain joined Yamanote High at 15 – his success has inspired others to follow him from New Zealand to the best rugby school in all HokkaidoStumbling blind through suburbs of Sapporo, following a sketchy set of directions from a stranger who took pity on me, I find a 6ft x 10ft picture of Japan’s captain, Michael Leitch, scoring a try in that famous game against the Springboks in 2015. It is posted above a set of double doors set in what looks like another office block. This must be the place. And around the side of the building, in a muddy yard surrounded by a chain fence, 15 kids are running passing drills and, in the far corner, 15 more working a scrum machine. This is Yamanote High, the best rugby school in all Hokkaido, one of the most famous in all Japan.
How ‘shy boy’ Leitch was moulded into a leader at Yamanote High | Andy Bull
“Up here,” says Vea Taumoefolau, “as soon as you say ‘Yamanote’, people will say ‘rugby’.” Vea is the school’s big, warm, softly spoken No 8. In 2016, he found two Japanese scouts waiting for him outside his house in Auckland. They had seen him playing for his school under‑15s and wanted to offer him a scholarship in Japan. Vea had never even been so far away as Wellington, and he already had a place lined up at Mount Albert Grammar, one of the strongest rugby schools in New Zealand. “It was pretty far out there,” he says. “But I decided I wanted to try something new.” Besides, “Tokyo was on my bucket list of places to go”.
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