From Fort Nelson, BC to Tokyo, Japan: Lesley McKenzie Renews Contract as Head Coach of Japan's Women's XVs Team
Congratulations to Lesley McKenzie on having her head coach contract renewed by the Japan Rugby Union. McKenzie who is from Fort Nelson, BC, a small community of just over 3,000 near the Yukon and NWT borders, was first hired by the Japan Rugby Union in 2019 to coach the women's XVs program. During that time she's taken them from ranked 16th in the world to ranked 12th in the world, an impressive accomplishment.
Lesley went to UBC, where she achieved a master's in classical literature. It was at UBC that she really learned about rugby as a player and then coach. She then went to NZ to enhance her rugby knowledge and took up a position as a game development officer for the Wanganui Rugby Football Union. She moved to Japan in 2018 as the national 7s assistant coach and moved into the XVs head coach role in January 2019.
Below we've added excerpts and links to various articles on Lesley, including a video interview done by local coach Robin MacDowell and his Rugby Hive partner Dallen Stanford.
It's an impressive journey, from growing up in small town BC to working outside of Tokyo, one of the world's largest cities, and coaching rugby in a country renowned for bringing in top rugby talent from around the world.
The Japan Rugby Football Union is delighted to announce that it has renewed the contract of Lesley McKenzie, the Head Coach of the Sakura Fifteen until March 31, 2024. Having coached Japan’s national team since 2019, McKenzie, who was capped 25 times for her native Canada, will continue to lead a Sakura Fifteen team that has made tremendous progress during her time as Head Coach.
Commenting on the news, National Team Director Yoshiyuki Miyazaki said:
“Lesley McKenzie has worked incredibly hard to strengthen the women’s game in Japan since taking over as head coach of the Sakura Fifteen and has brought the national team to a level where they can compete with the best in the world. In 2023, women’s international rugby will enter an exciting new phase with the introduction of WXV in which national teams will compete in test matches played in an annual tournament format. This new competition will give us a development platform to help us attain our goal of reaching the final eight at Rugby World Cup 2025. The continued incorporation of Lesley’s passion and professionalism will be vital for Japan to maintain its growth trajectory and continue achieving a world-beating standard.”
Sakura Fifteen Head Coach, Lesley McKenzie added:
“I’m delighted at this renewed opportunity to serve as the head coach of Sakura Fifteen. I love this team and these athletes. Wins over Australia and at home in Tokyo over Ireland were real highlights for me, but so was the time in New Zealand; we learned so much that will push us farther. We have a program still in its adolescence that I know is poised to stretch to higher and higher on the global stage. I’m thrilled to continue the journey and I thank the JRFU for their endorsement and the fans for their staunch support. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!”
Lesley McKenzie (born December 23, 1980) is a Canadian rugby union player with 25 caps and the coach of the Japan women's national rugby union team. She played in the 2006 and 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup.
During university, McKenzie played for five years with the UBC Thunderbirds. She played club rugby for Meraloma and UBCOB Ravens. She joined the UBC Thunderbirds as head coach in 2008 and left in 2013.
McKenzie earned her first senior cap with the Canada women's national rugby team at the 2004 Churchill Cup versus the United States women's national rugby team. Previously, she played for the under 23 representative team and represented British Columbia as a senior.
What would you say are the strengths of Japanese rugby players?
They work hard. They will do everything they can to give you what you’ve asked of them. They are fit and they have generally really good catch and pass skills. They train a lot. They are pretty much tireless, and they won’t complain.
It is a real pleasure to coach Japanese rugby players for those reasons — we don’t find that kind of player everywhere. I think there is also a good sense of humour in the group and a good sort of support for each other, which is really nice.
Rugby Hive Video Interview
Women's Rankings January 2019
1 New Zealand 94.71 2 England 91.62 3 France 89.45 4 Canada 86.13 5 USA 80.09 6 Australia 78.68 7 Italy 75.21 8 Wales 73.16 9 Spain 72.77 10 Ireland 72.51 11 Scotland 69.89 12 South Africa 67.98 13 Samoa 65.72 14 Netherlands 64.21 15 Portugal 64.00 16 Japan 62.99 17 Kazakhstan 62.22 18 Sweden 59.73 19 Germany 59.41 20 Russia 58.47
Women's Rankings January 2023
1 England 94.29 2 New Zealand 93.19 3 France 89.68 4 Canada 84.22 5 Italy 78.70 6 Australia 78.00 7 USA 76.78 8 Ireland 74.01 9 Wales 72.70 10 Scotland 68.71 11 Spain 68.47 12 Japan 67.94 13 South Africa 64.50 14 Russia 61.10 15 Hong Kong 59.25 16 Fiji 58.33 17 Netherlands 58.27 18 Samoa 58.01 19 Sweden 57.73 20 Kazakhstan 57.09