Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup descended into chaos on Thursday as for the first time in the sport’s showpiece history, World Cup games have been cancelled – typhoon Hagibis the cause.
England’s final Pool C Test with France in Yokohama – the deciding clash to determine the winners of the pool – is one of the games slashed and confined to a 0-0 draw in the history books. The decision made no material difference in the sense that both sides were already assured of qualification, but the result denies France a chance to win the group.
The other cancellation so far is New Zealand’s clash with Italy in Toyota City in Pool B, also on Saturday – the Azzurri required a bonus-point success over the double reigning world champions, who they had never beaten in history, to stand a chance to progress.
As unlikely as that eventuality seemed, however, such an outcome isn’t fair on Italy. Not least because it denies the likes of stalwarts Leonardo Ghiraldini and Sergio Parisse World Cup and Italy farewells.
As Parisse said in the aftermath: “If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been cancelled.
“It is ridiculous that a decision of this nature has been made because it isn’t like the fans arrived yesterday.
“It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan. The alternative is Plan B. When you organise a World Cup you should have one in place.
“Sure, everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being cancelled counts for nothing because we’d have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team.”
The England decision means Eddie Jones’ squad top Pool C without lacing up a boot, and they will in all likelihood play Australia in Oita in the quarter-finals on Saturday October 19 – a 14-day turnaround since their last Test. The Wallabies must face Georgia in Shizuoka on Friday meanwhile, while England can, in the words of Jones, enjoy some “beer and beef” as the “typhoon Gods smile down.”
France will now likely face Wales in Oita in the quarter-finals, also off the back of a 14-day rest, while Wales must face Uruguay – albeit minnows – on Sunday in a seven-day turnaround.
More cancellations are likely to follow too, with the game on everyone’s minds and lips being Pool A’s Japan vs Scotland encounter in Yokohama on Sunday.
Gregor Townsend’s charges need victory over the hosts and to deny them a losing bonus-point – or achieve a try bonus-point of their own – in order to leapfrog Japan and book a quarter-final slot. A cancellation, and consequent draw, would hand Japan a knockout place.
It would see Scotland eliminated without the chance to play for survival and progression, and no matter what way the decision is explained or framed, is a gross injustice for the Scots.
Such a scenario would also see Japan top Pool A without a ball being kicked, and avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
That is because, owing to the fact Japan achieved bonus-point wins over Russia and Samoa – the latter four minutes into dead time – and beat Ireland earlier in the pool stages, they current sit on 14 points, and even if Joe Schmidt’s men were to beat Samoa with a bonus-point and finish on 16 points, a Japan cancellation would hand the hosts two more competition points, bringing them to 16 also.
Head-to-head is then the next distinguisher, sending Japan through as Pool A winners to face South Africa. Ireland would have a six-day turnaround to face New Zealand in Tokyo, who would have had a two-week break due to their own cancellation.
Each one of the teams to progress to the last eight are now already affected by these cancellations, due to either themselves or potential opponents having longer rest times etc. Undercooked, by far the more rested or more fatigued, it’s no longer an even playing field in so many ways.
But Scotland’s fate is the big one. World Rugby took the decision to break new ground by taking a World Cup to Asia for the first time. They also took the decision to hold it in the autumn as is customary, but in the middle of typhoon season.
This is not some freak incident to have occurred at the most inopportune time. Japan is consistently hit by tropical cyclones at this very point in the year.
With that in mind, it is near inexplicable that contingency plans, of which much has been heard but little to nothing seen, have not been properly put in place for this eventuality.
Indeed, when asked specifically about the Japan vs Scotland Test, its significance and plans going forward on Thursday, World Rugby tournament director Alan Gilpin said the game would not be relocated, postponed or treated any differently, and unless the weather and conditions improve by Sunday, will be cancelled. How can that be? And why is that?
How can teams wait and build over four years for a World Cup? Only to have it ended by causes of which they can’t control? It’s enormously controversial. It’s nearly laughable.
On the pitch, it will cost some teams hugely. And that’s before the monetary affect to supporters off-field is even mentioned.
The fact that typhoon Hagibis should occur on the final weekend of the pool stages, when many games are effectively at knockout capacity in all but name, clearly exacerbates the issue and feeling.
All of that is not to undermine the threat or dangers typhoon Hagibis present. It’s now said to be three times bigger than typhoon Faxai, which wreaked havoc in Tokyo back in September. It’s intensified explosively from 60mph gusts to 160mph in record time. It’s the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane – the second strongest possible.
There should be no ignorance as to the need and will for safety during this impending storm. The damage and potential threat to life is acute.
But how has cancellations of matches been allowed to occur during one of the largest sporting events in the world? With zero apparent plan to keep the tournament going? There’s been no movement of games to other, unaffected stadiums (Ireland vs Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday is still going ahead for example). No delaying or bringing forward Tests to alternative days.
The credibility of the World Cup is becoming increasingly stretched to breaking point.