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Anger and frustration entirely fair as World Rugby's greatest fear realised

Supporters, players, and coaches are entitled to be deeply disappointed with the cancellations.

WORLD RUGBY TOLD us from over a year out that there were ‘contingency plans’ in place for the World Cup should Japan’s typhoon season threaten to have an effect on the 2019 tournament. 

Today, with two games cancelled and others still under threat, it remains unclear what exactly those contingency plans consisted of.

As Italy captain Sergio Parisse lamented after he and his team-mates were denied the chance to face the All Blacks, there doesn’t appear to have been any Plan B.

japan-rugby-wcup-typhoon World Rugby cancelled two games at the World Cup. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

Indeed, it looks as though World Rugby and Japan Rugby 2019 simply hoped that their greatest fear – a typhoon or other natural disaster hitting the Japanese mainland – would not come to pass.

The logistical nightmare of shifting six teams to new host cities seemingly made it impossible to spring into action a rescue plan at this late stage for the two cancelled games on Saturday and the key fixture under threat on Sunday.

Imagine trying to get several 31-man squads onto trains or planes, along with their large coaching and backrooms staffs, all their gear, then overseeing the transfer of various TV and broadcasting staff and equipment, then focusing on getting volunteers, medical practitioners, in-stadium workers, and much more ready in the space of a couple of days. 

This simply wasn’t going to happen and World Rugby instead fell back on the idea of cancelling games in the projected path of Super Typhoon Hagibis.

At the press conference where they announced the two cancelled games, World Rugby reminded everyone that they had warned us that this was going to be the case for pool games affected by extreme weather conditions at this World Cup.

Simply put, most of us – competing teams clearly included – didn’t take notice or believe organisers would follow through on that promise.

It should be underlined that World Rugby’s decision not to play the games in Yokohama and Toyota City on Saturday could save lives, so it is the right one at this point in time.

Typhoon Faxai struck close to Tokyo in early September, killing three people, injuring 40 more people, and generally wreaking havoc.

Hagibis, the 19th typhoon of this season, is said to be up to three times more powerful than Faxai, so this is no laughing matter. The cancellations could save the life of even one person, so this is the correct decision from World Rugby.

japan-asia-typhoon Toyko was only recently hit by Typhoon Faxai. Source: 浦郷遼太郎

But, equally, the anger and frustration being directed at the sport’s governing body is completely understandable – why was there no way at all for the games to be decided on the pitch? 

Two of the biggest games in rugby’s showpiece competition have been cancelled at late notice, with no long-term back-up plan in place, while the crucial Japan v Scotland fixture is in real danger too.

The potential for the Scots to be knocked out of the competition without even playing their final pool game, as Italy already have been, is crazy. While relocating all of the fans, TV crews, media, and everyone else may prove too difficult, World Rugby should find a way for that game to be played, even if it is behind closed doors.

The truth, however, is that this game is more likely to be cancelled, with World Rugby insisting that they will treat this fixture exactly how the others have been. If conditions don’t allow the game to be played at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday, World Rugby insist it will be called off.

It’s not difficult to imagine the scale of devastation that Hagibis will leave in its wake, so the outlook is gloomy right now. Scotland will fight to the bitter end if World Rugby try to call this fixture off.

Whether or not the game goes ahead, the 2019 World Cup will be remembered as ‘the one with the typhoon’ and these circumstances will give doubters of rugby, as well as outright anti-rugby folk, plenty of ammunition to justifiably discredit the sport.

The entire tournament has now been skewed, with some of the leading contenders having this weekend off to rest up before their quarter-finals. New Zealand, England, and France were all set to play in the coming days but can begin preparations for their quarter-finals instead.

One could guess that Joe Schmidt won’t be best pleased in the event that Ireland secure their place in the knock-out stages.

japan-rugby-wcup-typhoon Japan and Scotland's game could still be cancelled. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

Once we reach that point, it seems that World Rugby’s contingency plans for any games affected by weather conditions would kick in and there could potentially be rescheduled or relocated fixtures if required. Again, the governing body will say they told us that would be the case beforehand.

Right now, though, the circumstances of cancelled games and the threat of more to come have left players, coaches, supporters, and so many others frustrated, angry, and confused. 

World Rugby will be hoping for an incredible series of knock-out games to save this competition’s legacy, though it will always be remembered for the incredible Hagibis weekend.

All of that said, being responsible for putting any lives at risk would be a far more damaging legacy for the World Cup than any cancelled games. In the face of a typhoon that could be one of Japan’s worst-ever, World Rugby will feel they’ve made the right call.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Fukuoka

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