Who is New Zealand's most successful sporting export? Is it NBA superstar Steven Adams, Premier League footballer Chris Wood or IndyCar icon Scott Dixon? On the eve of the Rugby World Cup, Michael Burgess sits down with another leading candidate - the Kiwi carrying the hopes of 127 million Japanese.
As Japan begins their Rugby World Cup campaign, much on the focus will be on an unassuming Kiwi, born in Christchurch and educated at St Bedes High School.
Meet Michael Leitch.
Flanker, café owner, brand ambassador, occasional surfer and Japanese national hero.
From the snowy mountains of Hokkaido in the north, to the farmlands of Kyushu in the south, most of Japan's population of 127 million knows very little about rugby, which remains a niche sport there.
But everyone recognises their skipper, 'Leitch-san'.
"I've never been close to superstardom like he is in Japan, to be fair," says former All Black Stephen Donald, who played with Leitch at club level in Japan.
"I've walked the streets with Richie [McCaw] or Dan [Carter] or whatever, but it's another level when you are around Leitchy in Japan. I've never seen anything like it. You can't compare it to anyone in New Zealand, the status that he holds in Japan."
Leitch was made national captain in April 2014, but his fame began to transcend the sport with Japan's heroics at the last World Cup, where they won three games, including the remarkable 34-32 victory over the Springboks.
More than a fifth of the population watched their clash with Samoa, with the 25 million viewers representing the biggest national viewing audience (across all countries) in Rugby World Cup history.
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"About 5,000 people met us at the airport," Leitch tells the Herald. "We got into Tokyo and it was rugby fever for a good month or so, every newspaper, every television show. It was crazy."
"Up until that point you could walk down the street and no one could ever notice you, you could do what you want. But then it was almost like you are like Sonny Bill in New Zealand.
"I guess my life has changed a bit in that way, but I can always shoot back to New Zealand where no one knows me."
Their performances in England invigorated Japanese national pride and captured the imagination, like few other sporting events before or since.
And Leitch was at the centre of it all, as his teammates at Toshiba discovered.
"They would never want to walk with me," says Leitch. "I would always get stopped by people for photos and things like that. I would always leave them, they would be 300 or 400 metres ahead. It got a bit hectic at one stage."
Donald recalls similar episodes.
"You would go through the busiest train stations in the middle of Tokyo and usually rugby players don't get a second glance," says Donald. "But with him you'd think you were cruising around with Justin Beiber at times, the way that people would chase after him and schoolgirls would know who he was. They probably couldn't tell you a thing about rugby, but they all know it is Captain Leitch."
During a trip earlier this year, his profile was obvious all around Japan.
Arriving at Toyota train station, his large frame is displayed across a huge skyscraper. It was the same in Yokohama and Tokyo, with billboards in the underground, on buses and all over buildings.
Conversations about rugby with locals might produce quizzical frowns, until you mentioned 'Leitch-san'.
Leitch's personal stable of sponsors tells another story; Mastercard, Landrover, Asics, Toshiba, Italian watch maker Osso, Japanese beverage giant Oenon, British menswear company Hackett and Air New Zealand.
"He's done alright for himself," says Donald, in an understatement. "Leitchy's got pretty much got the keys to the country when he steps out of his house."
Leitch arrived in Japan as a 15-year-old in 2003, on a high school exchange program to Sapporo. His parents had billeted visiting Japanese students, which led to Leitch being offered the solo trip.
"[There was] no doubt at all, as soon as the offer came up I said yes."
He stayed on beyond the first year on a scholarship and then began to set his sights higher.
"I was on a summer camp with my rugby team and we came across the NEC club," recalls Leitch. "I noticed all the foreigners in their team and I asked my coach 'Why are all these foreigners here?' He said they are here making millions. I thought `holey, moley, that's me'.
"I knew I could carve out a career here, so I just stuck at it, though I never thought I would be captain of Japan."
For a teenager from the Laissez-faire society in New Zealand, there was plenty of adjustment.
At high school all the students had to clean their chairs and desks every day, then wipe down the classroom floor.
Leitch also learnt about collective responsibility.
After one of his teammates got caught drinking, the entire squad had to shave their heads, while the culprit wasn't allowed to train for three weeks, instead spending that time cleaning the school. Other things were foreign, like playing on fields of dirt and gravel, or covered in snow.
After graduating high school, he impressed in Japan's prestigious University rugby system.
He was called up for the Under-20 World Cup in 2008, before winning his first senior cap later that same year.
Leitch graduated from Tokai University in March 2011, getting a contract with Toshiba Lupus, on the outskirts of Tokyo.
"My department was human resources," says Leitch. "I had a desk, but I wasn't expected to go into work very often."
His international breakthrough came at the 2011 World Cup, as he was prominent in all four matches. Leitch caught the eye of Wayne Smith, which led to an offer from the Chiefs.
A broken leg stymied that dream, but he got a second chance in 2015, forming an impressive trio alongside Sam Cane and Liam Messam as the Waikato team reached the semi-finals.
Then came the World Cup in England, and the life-changing game in Brighton.
Leitch was an irresistible force that day, and also exhibited nerves of steel, turning down a kickable penalty to tie the match to go for the win in the last play of the match.
"I thought I would rather go down fighting than have that shot at goal and miss and forever have that regret in the back of my mind," explains Leitch.
Japan's evolution has continued since then.
They impressed in a 23-23 draw with France in Paris in 2017, and led England with 20 minutes to go at Twickenham last November, before a final quarter comeback from the home side.
Over more than a decade with the Brave Blossoms, Leitch says the culture has changed dramatically.
"When I first made the team the guys would tell me 'make sure you pack dress shoes and a shirt," says Leitch. "And we would go out most nights. It's changed dramatically since then – like it has for many other teams – and the younger generation have a different approach."
The 30-year-old Leitch credits former coach Eddie Jones with instilling a new work ethic, as well as belief, and says Jamie Joseph has built on that over the last four years, aiming to achieve more consistency in training and games, as well as giving the players more autonomy and responsibility.
Over the next few weeks Leitch's profile will soar even higher, especially if Japan can reach the knockout stages for the first time.
That will be tough, with Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in their pool, but as they showed last time, nothing is impossible.
Leitch is undaunted by the challenge, and the thought of representing tens of millions of people.
"It's not daunting, it's exciting," says Leitch. "I just feel pride. And we don't fear the other nations any more. It's an amazing opportunity for us and we are determined to make the most of it."
Michael Burgess travelled to Japan with the support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation